Civil Service Reform

Observations on Demonstration Authority, the Use of Official Time, and the Administrative Redress System Gao ID: T-GGD-98-160 June 24, 1998

Two decades have passed since the passage of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978. Since then, as the pace of social, economic, and technological change has increased, Congress has further refined the civil service. Today, Congress is again considering legislation that, like the Civil Service Reform Act itself, is not intended to completely overhaul the civil service but rather to keep pace with the need to refine or modernize the system in several key areas. This testimony discusses three issues addressed in the proposed legislation: personnel demonstration authority, the use of official time to support employee union activities, and the administrative redress system for federal workers.

GAO noted that: (1) the personnel demonstration project authority provided by the Civil Service Reform Act has been put to only limited use; (2) there is some question as to whether this authority has accomplished, to the appropriate extent, the purpose for which it was intended--that is, determining whether specific changes in personnel management policies or procedures would result in improved federal personnel management; (3) enhancing the opportunities for agencies to pursue innovative human resource management (HRM) policies or procedures would be likely to create more knowledge about what works and what does not; (4) as more agencies take steps to fashion their HRM approaches to support their missions and goals, it would be useful for them to have as many proven HRM approaches available to them as possible; (5) if decisionmakers hope to resolve the question of the extent to which federal agencies use official time and other resources to support employee union activities, better data will be needed; (6) but, recognizing that data gathering can be expensive, decisionmakers will need to balance the costs and benefits of the various options for doing so; (7) in December 1998, after OPM reports on its current effort to collect data from the agencies, decisionmakers may have a fuller picture of the issues involved in requiring agencies to report on the use of these resources, and may have more information with which to balance the costs and potential benefits of imposing this requirement in the future; (8) GAO continues to view the administrative redress system for federal employees as inefficient, expensive, and time-consuming; (9) certain steps to relieve undue burdens on the system, such as eliminating mixed case appeals, would appear to make good sense, provided these actions upheld two fundamental principles: (a) fair treatment for federal employees; and (b) an efficiently managed federal government; and (10) in addition, GAO's work on alternative dispute resolution (ADR) suggests that the current burden on the administrative redress system could be eased, at least in part, if agencies made ADR more widely available to their employees.

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