OPM issues new standards on merit principles

The Office of Personnel Management has issued new standards designed to hold all federal agencies, including those exempt from established personnel rules, accountable for applying merit principles in personnel management. The new standards are based on requirements laid out in Executive Order 13197, issued in January 2001. The executive order clarified that all federal agencies in the executive branch, particularly those exempt from Title 5, must comply with the merit system principles of fairness, efficiency and objectivity. Title 5 of the U.S. Code dictates standard personnel rules for the federal government. OPM is required by law to ensure that federal agencies operate their human resources management programs in accordance with merit principles. Under Executive Order 13197, agencies must submit workforce information to OPM for oversight purposes. The agency's merit systems oversight office uses the workforce data to monitor the personnel programs of federal agencies. Under the new standards, agencies must develop a human resources accountability system that supports the agency's mission, helps the agency solve significant HR problems, includes balanced measures of agency human resources management and is appropriately documented to comply with legal requirements. OPM provided several examples of measurements agencies can use to meet these requirements. They included the extent to which employees understand how their jobs fit in and contribute to fulfilling the agency's mission; retention rates; total cost of HR per serviced employee; and the agency's level of compliance with veterans preference or whistleblower provisions. "These standards are part of OMB's "Human Capital Standards for Success." Meeting them is one step to enable your agency to achieve a "green light" under the OMB standards," OPM Director Kay Coles James wrote in a Jan. 4 memo to agency heads in which she issued the new standards. James referred to the Bush administration's "traffic light" scorecard, which uses a red, yellow and green grading system for five areas of agency performance: human capital management, competitive sourcing, financial management, electronic government and linking performance to budgets. On the scorecard, green is for success, yellow is for mixed results and red is for unsatisfactory performance. Of the 26 major federal agencies included on the scorecard, only three got yellow lights in human capital management. The rest were red. The only agencies exempt from new standards of accountability are ones that deal with national security, such as the CIA, FBI, Defense Intelligence Agency and National Imagery and Mapping Agency. For more information on the new standards, see OPM's Questions and Answers.