Institutional Values: The Foundation for Civil Service Change

By Schuh, Anna Marie | Public Personnel Management, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

Institutional Values: The Foundation for Civil Service Change


Schuh, Anna Marie, Public Personnel Management


The disappearance of the traditional U.S. civil service system that focused on federal agencies using common procedures in human resource (HR) management processes is accelerating. In 1951, a common system covered 87.5 percent of federal employees. The Postal Service Reorganization Act of 1970 reduced this number to 61.2 percent. (1) In 1996 P.L.104-264 removed 49,133 Federal Aviation Administration employees, (2) and in 1998 the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act (P.L. 105-206) removed another 96,949 employees. (3) By 2000, alternative pays systems covered 196,495 non-postal workers. (4) That same year, Mario Caviglia, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) official then responsible for tracking system coverage, estimated that less than 50 percent of employees were included in the traditional system based on an unpublished OPM study. In 2002, the Homeland Security Act removed 170,000 (5) employees. On November 24, 2003, P.L. 108-36 removed approximately 671,600 Defense Department employees. (6) As a result, less than 20 percent of Executive Branch employees remain under a common civil service system. (7)

The traditional civil service system, developed over time through the incremental addition of procedural requirements that ensured similar treatment of all system participants, addressed institutional values through the political process; however, this incremental procedure development process did not articulate values. In addition, although many public administration scholars provide perspectives about the values that are important for federal administrative systems in general and the civil service system in particular, the literature offers no agreement on a set of important values, and there has been little empirical research on this issue.

The purpose of this article is to explicate the most important American values from the perspective of a key stakeholder--the president as the institutional gatekeeper. Understanding important American institutional values is particularly necessary in the absence of a common civil service procedural system that implicitly addresses those values. Designers of alternative civil service systems need to be aware of important institutional values because design is a function of values embodied in the system. (8) Designers also need to ensure that the larger public accepts the policies and that the policies are technically successful, and adherence to institutional values enhances both policy acceptance and technical success. (9)

This research uses nine values that the institutional values literature finds present in all organizations. (10) The research then measures the frequency of the president's articulation of those values to rank order the importance of the values from the perspective of the American institutional gatekeeper. Finally, the article discusses the implications of the important values to the HR system designer.

Literature Review

This article uses two literature sources. The institutional values literature addresses the function of values in organizations and explains how institutional values affect the development of human resource management systems. The public administration literature offers specific information about American values and their function in the civil service environment. Both literatures assist in the development of a term list used to track values.

Institutional Values Literature

Institutional values are beliefs that endure over time about conduct or activities. These beliefs are at many societal levels, including nations and institutions. Institutions involve sets of norms assembled around important values. Institutional values derive from environmental factors (e.g., history, surroundings, resources), and acceptance of underlying perspectives by participants. Dominant institutional values exhibit four characteristics: extensiveness throughout the system, durability over a considerable period of time, intensity shown by choices and verbal affirmation, and prestige of those who espouse the values. …

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