Civil Service Reform Might Not Be a Pipe Dream

“This is a difficult time in Congress to do anything, but this is changing and we have an opportunity,” said Ted Kaufman, D-Del. “This is a difficult time in Congress to do anything, but this is changing and we have an opportunity,” said Ted Kaufman, D-Del. Susan Walsh/AP file photo

Compared with the Affordable Care Act, civil service reform “is a walk in the park,” said former Sen. Ted Kaufman, D-Del., on Wednesday.

He spoke at a largely optimistic panel evaluating prospects for the Partnership for Public Service and Booz Allen Hamilton’s new compendium of proposals to improve federal hiring practices, reward top performers and create a more market-based pay structure.

“This is a difficult time in Congress to do anything, but this is changing and we have an opportunity,” said Kaufman, a veteran Senate staffer and currently a visiting professor at Duke University Law School. “Even if we had the most friendly Congress in the world, it would be a long process.” Most lawmakers “want to have a good civil service -- with a few notable exceptions,” he added. The public’s hostility toward government is largely a function of the bad economy, he said.

The report -- titled “Building the Enterprise: A New Civil Service Framework” -- was the product of two years’ work drawing from previous government reform efforts, said Lara Shane, vice president of research and communications for the Partnership. “Most ideas have been tried before, so we sought lessons learned” from why they didn’t take. PPS chose the term “framework” rather than “blueprint” as a way to “start the conversation,” said its president, Max Stier.

Reform will move forward only if there is agreement among all stakeholders, said Robert Tobias, former president of the National Treasury Employees Union and now director of the Institute for the Study of Public Policy Implementation at American University. “It’s not just the unions, but Congress and the administration have to build an infrastructure of trust on what you can agree on,” he said, because there “will be winners and losers.”

But Tobias said he sees the present political climate as opportune because “there is no crisis, so it’s the best environment for a rational discussion.” He added that “most people don’t care about this issue, which can be an advantage in driving the legislation.” Because the reform proposals are likely “budget-neutral,” the panelists noted, any bill would bypass the budget and appropriations committees and perhaps be championed by a small group of lawmakers.

But the 1978 civil service reforms, came about “with a bipartisan coalition for good government that is missing today,” Tobias cautioned.

Businesses want to avoid getting involved in the “dynamics of Congress versus the administration,” added Tony Miller, former deputy Education secretary now a partner with the Vistria Group. “It’s important that reform not be framed in a partisan way -- if you’re for smaller government, it’s still good. But it is important to create a sense of urgency, a burning platform,” while gauging the “opportunity cost” of not acting now.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.