The federal civil service system needs mending and executive branch agencies should not wait for Congress to act, three former personnel chiefs agreed Thursday.
“There are some things that can be done in terms of recruitment systems” and other areas, Constance Newman, who headed the Office of Personnel Management from 1989 to 1992 during George H.W. Bush’s administration, said at a forum at the National Academy of Public Administration. The first step, Newman said, is to see what can be done through executive branch action and then follow up with “those things that require legislation but won’t scare everybody.”
But legislation is not needed to put in place personnel management systems to set goals and get feedback, said Linda Springer, OPM director from 2005 to 2008 under President George W. Bush. And the head of OPM has “a tremendous amount of latitude” to make changes, said Janice Lachance, who led the agency from 1998 to 2001 under President Clinton.
To critics, the current General Schedule framework — which dates back to 1949 — is ill-suited to the complexities of 21st century government management. Agency appraisal systems have “a lot of phoniness,” Newman said. And while advancement under the GS career path generally requires employees to take on supervisory responsibilities, Lachance said, “some people just stink at being supervisors.”
But proposed overhauls over the years have gotten little traction. An added complication nowadays is a dearth of lawmakers with the stature to take on an issue with little political upside, Lachance said.
“It’s harder when you don’t have those people with seniority who are willing to spend time on something that frankly is not going to give them a headline — ever,” she said.
The forum was sponsored by the Coalition for Effective Change, which includes current and retired federal managers and seeks to improve government operations.