Florida's HR Reforms: Service First, Service Worst, or Something in Between?

By Crowell, Elsie B.; Guy, Mary E. | Public Personnel Management, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Florida's HR Reforms: Service First, Service Worst, or Something in Between?


Crowell, Elsie B., Guy, Mary E., Public Personnel Management


"Florida is a high growth state. One thousand people are moving here each day and services must be provided for them. The question is who will be lithe provider of these services?" This question, posed by State Senator Al Lawson, Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Governmental Oversight and Productivity captures the question that many ponder. (1) If Florida state workers are concerned about the future of their employment, they have every reason to be. Florida instituted two major reforms this decade: civil service reform and privatization of the HR function to Convergys. Many questions linger about the effectiveness of these reforms. Enough time has now passed to afford a retrospective look at the changes. That is the purpose of this paper.

Perhaps Waiters (2) said it best after previous civil service reform efforts in Florida: "Florida's hard-learned lesson: If you try for a revolution, you could end up with an oversold, uncoordinated, misdirected and ultimately fumbled drive at reform. Something else to keep in mind: Big-splash civil service reform efforts don't save money. They cost money." Could it be that if Walters were rewriting his article today, he would say the same thing in 2010? Waiters is referring to the recommendations of the Florida Civil Service Reform Commission, which was set up in 1991. The commission made almost 100 recommendations in 10 general areas of personnel management. While many of these changes had long been recommended, the plan for implementation proved unrealistic and uncoordinated.

The move by Congress to pass the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883 was motivated by lessons learned from the underbelly of patronage, whereby civil servants were expected to contribute time and money to political campaigns in order to receive and retain government jobs. Subsequent reforms at the federal level called for uniform hiring procedures, salaries and other fine-tuning efforts, and merit systems flourished across the country during most of the 20th century. (3) Civil service reformers of the late nineteenth century did not show a keen interest in measuring the output of the public sector; rather, they showed a strong distrust of elected public officials, based on the premise that elected public officials "could use their control of the political process to entrench themselves (or their party) in office, thereby subverting the electoral process." This was a key factor in the introduction of civil service systems. (4) Notwithstanding the original intent of the civil service, states have begun to push for reforms that may drastically alter the role of public service as envisioned by early policymakers. The effort to reform civil service became a top priority across the U.S. as states sought to reinvent government, improve performance, and achieve a businesslike environment. (5)

In Florida's case, efforts to improve and reinvent government are not limited to reforming the career service system. They also include outsourcing government services as a means of increasing efficiency and modernization. The purpose of this paper is to report a qualitative study of how state employees and managers perceive and interpret the results of these initiatives.

Historical Context

Florida adopted a civil service system in 1967, called the Career Service System. Two additional categories were created later: the Senior Management System (SMS) in 1980, and the Selected Exempt Service (SES) in 1985 (sections 110.201-110.235; 110.401110.409; 110.205, Florida Statutes, History s.20 Chapter 79-190.). The SMS and SES are "at-will" categories of employment and were in place when Jeb Bush became Governor in 1998 and advocated change.

Disdain for state workers makes for good campaign fodder in Florida. Previous Governors Bob Martinez (R) and Lawton Chiles (D) both criticized state workers. Martinez called them "lard bricks" and Chiles asked, "What are we about here? …

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