Civil Service Reform--Where It Stands Today

Gao ID: FPCD-80-38 May 13, 1980

The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 is intended to provide Federal managers with the flexibility to improve Government operations and productivity while, at the same time, protect employees from unfair or unwarranted practices. As part of civil service reform, a reorganization of the agencies administering the Federal personnel system was proposed and approved. Thus, the Civil Service Commission (CSC) was abolished, and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Merit Systems Protection Board and its Special Counsel were established in its place; the Federal Labor Relations Authority was established in place of the Federal Labor Relations Council; and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was given responsibility for enforcing equal employment laws in the Federal agencies. The basic OPM implementation principle is that it will regulate only to the extent that there is a compelling need for uniformity in interpreting the law. The organizational components inherited from CSC have been consolidated and realigned, and OPM activities have been refocused in line with the requirements of the Act. OPM has attempted to open channels of communication to inform Federal line managers about civil service reform and how the executive branch will be affected through a program development conference. A two-stage process was employed to develop and issue new regulations implementing the Act. Training programs relating to civil service reform subjects were developed or revised and made available to agencies. In planning extensive evaluations of the Act, OPM is working with GAO, Congress, the Office of Management and Budget, and executive branch agencies to tailor its evaluations to meet their needs to the extent possible.

GAO expressed concern over the possibility that merit system principles could be compromised unless OPM maintains a strict oversight of agency personnel management activities. It believed that in most cases, agency personnel management systems should be designed around a basic framework provided by OPM because without such a framework, Congress and the public will not be able to compare agency programs. Although OPM agency relations officers are responsible for providing technical assistance and consultative services, as well as for conducting compliance evaluation, GAO believes that agencies may be reluctant to request assistance from the same group that inspects them. GAO is also concerned that: (1) the timeframe established by the Act for implementing performance appraisal systems and merit pay systems may be inadequate for OPM and agencies for development and testing; (2) early retirement procedures are permitting employees not adversely affected by major reorganization to take early retirements; (3) linkage of Federal executive pay to congressional pay continues to exacerbate pay compression for the Senior Executive Service; (4) too little attention is being paid to gathering sufficient data, to protecting seniority rignts, and to considering alternatives to grade and pay retention; and (5) agencies are making very little progress in complying with the OPM regulations on the Federal Equal Opportunity Recruitment Program. Because the review was made during the early stages of implementation, no recommendations were made.

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