IBM endowment report cites benefits of states' civil service reforms

Three states that have eliminated or dramatically curtailed their civil service systems have reaped many benefits, including quicker hires, improved satisfaction with personnel administration and better-qualified applicants, according to a new grant report from the IBM Endowment for the Business of Government.

The report, released Oct. 29, details the effects of personnel reform in Florida, Georgia and Texas. Texas disbanded its Texas Merit Council in 1985 and returned control of most personnel management to state agencies. Georgia passed a sweeping civil service reform bill in 1996. Every state employee hired since then serves at will. In 2001, Florida collapsed its state job classifications and eliminated civil service protection for managers and supervisors and seniority for all state employees.

Other states, including Michigan, Washington and Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia have begun modernizing their personnel systems as well.

Congress introduced the federal civil service in 1883 to guard against patronage hiring and firing and to insulate public employees from the political fallout of their work.

But critics today say the civil service has become "less of a bulwark and more of a wall ... that gets in the way of modern, efficient personnel management" in government, according to the report, "Life After Civil Service Reform: The Texas, Georgia and Florida Experiences."

Jonathan Walters, staff correspondent for Governing magazine, wrote the report for the endowment. The endowment, formerly a unit of PwC Consulting, facilitates research and discussion on new approaches to improve the effectiveness of government. IBM Corp. of Armonk, N.Y., purchased PwC Consulting of New York this year.

The report is timely, Walters said, because civil service flexibilities have been hotly debated as Congress considers creating the Department of Homeland Security. President Bush wants to give managers in the new department significant leeway in hiring, firing, promoting, moving and retaining federal civil servants.

"For an example of how high [the] visibility [of critiques of civil service have] been raised and the currency of the debate, one need look no further than the legislative debate over creation of the new federal Office of Homeland Security," Walters wrote. "A major sticking point in that debate is whether employees of the new agency will be covered by civil service or whether they will serve 'at will.' "

Walters found there has been no unusual spike in political hiring or firing in Florida, Georgia or Texas after personnel reform.

But he did find a few downsides to the reform. The prospect that longtime, high-salary employees will be swept out increases and has the potential to impact morale and interest in public service. Also, personnel administrators have a greater burden in administering their systems smoothly, legally and efficiently, the study said.

The report is available at

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