Tuesday, October 15, 2002
If only we could trick Al Qaeda into unionizingPhillip Howard explains why the civil service system is incompatible with homeland security.
For personnel decisions, the civil service rules operate as a kind of legal air bag, allowing a disgruntled worker to force the supervisor to prove the wisdom of an adverse decision, even a negative comment on an evaluation form. The process of dismissing a worker who is incompetent or worse can take years. (The minimum generally is 18 months.) Getting rid of someone who has bad judgment is basically impossible: How would a supervisor prove bad judgment? Last year, according to the Office of Personnel Management, out of an estimated 64,000 federal employees who were designated "poor performers," only 434 were dismissed through these legal hearings: That's seven out of 1,000.The theory behind the civil service system was to eliminate the spoils system, where people got federal jobs based on political patronage. But that's a red herring; there's no need to eliminate the system for hiring purposes; we can still have (so-called) merit based hiring without having union-controlled day-to-day operations. President Bush may have been impolitic when he accused the Senate of caring more about special interests than about national security, but that doesn't make him wrong. Merely shuffling organizational flowcharts, as Senate Democrats propose, is not going to be sufficient to make a Homeland Security Department effective. The factor most missing from government -- accountability -- is needed.
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