Advice to the next President: recruit, respect, reform

klunney@govexec.com

Leaders in government and public policy have some advice for the next administration when it comes to the federal workforce: recruit, respect, and reform.

Current and former federal managers and public administration experts discussed the federal workforce and civil service reform Tuesday at "transition dialogue series" sponsored by the Reason Public Policy Institute.

When asked to offer recommendations to the future President, the group agreed that the next chief executive needs to work harder on attracting talented people to the civil service and on dispelling the negative image of government employees. Panelists also recommending revamping the the federal civil service -especially the employee classification system-and streamlining the political appointments process.

Some panelists said that increasing federal pay, offering employees more educational opportunities, and giving agencies more freedom to develop individual workforce planning programs would help attract and retain employees. They also said showing respect for federal workers and promoting the virtues of public service will boost employee morale and help ease the often tense relationships between career employees and political appointees.

Many complained that the complex seniority-based classification system made promoting and hiring talented people difficult.

All agreed that the political appointments process needs to be streamlined, although suggestions on how to accomplish the goal varied.

Many federal leaders said political appointees need to have stronger internal management skills and a firmer grasp on the ways of government when they start.

Bob Nash, White House personnel director for the last five years, acknowledged that the focus in filling the top positions within the administration is typically on recruiting people who can shape external policy, as opposed to manage internally within an agency. He said that traditionally, management and operations have been the realm of career senior executives.

Panelists said political appointees need to be qualified and better prepared for their jobs, especially the top jobs in the administration. Herbert Jasper from the National Academy of Public Administration was particularly blunt.

"Don't appoint anyone from the campaign staff to work in the White House," he said.

Other suggestions for the next President included:

  • Cultivate strong partnerships between labor and management.
  • Reduce the number of political appointees and senior executives.
  • Give public policy experts in industry and academia more opportunities to work in the public sector on a short-term basis.
  • Review the federal retirement process.
Both George W. Bush and Al Gore have said they would make reforming federal government a priority in their administrations.

The transition dialogue series will continue through Thursday at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington.

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