Civil Service Overhaul Defended Before Congress

Allen Smith, J.D. By Allen Smith, J.D. May 16, 2018
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​Federal officials responsible for upcoming civil service reforms defended President Donald Trump's plan to overhaul the federal civil service before Congress on May 16.

The current federal job classification system is outdated, the compensation structure is unwieldly, hiring is slow, and performance management fails to address the best and worst employees, said Margaret Weichert, deputy director for management of the Office of Management and Budget.

Jeff Pon, SHRM-SCP, director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), agreed that civil service reform is long overdue. The last time there was major reform was in 1978. Meanwhile, hiring managers are frustrated by red tape with some positions taking more than a year to fill, he said.

The federal government's ability to rely on the rising gig economy is constrained by the current rules, Pon noted. He said the government needs to prize mobility over stability and seek out talented individuals in short-term jobs with portable benefits.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., welcomed the plan to improve the performance of the federal government.

However, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., criticized the president's proposal to cut $143 billion from the retirement benefits of federal employees, calling it a "wage cut" of middle-class workers that is "absolutely wrong." Cummings said that government is not a business. Its purpose is to promote the interests of American people, not to make a profit, and he noted that federal workers make far less than they would in the private sector.

More Like the Private Sector

In addition to the benefits cut, the Trump administration reportedly wants to freeze salaries next year and is considering a broader overhaul of civil service laws. Pon, formerly the Society for Human Resource Management's chief human resources and strategy officer, wants the federal workforce to function more like the private sector—more flexibly and less permanently.

"I don't believe we should [work] at a federal job for 30 years and then retire and then have a lifetime [paid] retirement anymore," he said at a town hall on civil service sponsored by the Volcker Alliance and the Partnership for Public Service.

(NPR)

Compensation Changes

At his first media briefing as OPM director in April, Pon said he is "really looking at wholesale change" in areas including compensation. "I know that there's midterm elections and sometimes people get their attention elsewhere but I'm really making sure that our staff here at OPM have a full-court press in the next six to seven months, and you'll see a lot of things come out of here." However, federal unions oppose pay-for-performance systems as well as the retirement changes Republicans have favored.

(The Washington Post)

[SHRM members-only online discussion platform: SHRM Connect]

Overhaul of Federal Hiring

The Trump administration also is seeking to make federal hiring simpler and faster, provide more candidate feedback, ease internal transfers, and adopt automation tools. OPM has directed hiring agencies to notify applicants when an application is received, when qualifications have been assessed and candidates are referred for interviews, and when an offer has been made. In addition, new digital records will make it easier for federal workers to transfer among agencies.

(SHRM Online)

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