Civil Service Modernization

The American federal civil service system, the foundation for effective government, is in crisis.

Civil Service Modernization

Designed decades ago, the federal personnel system governing more than two million federal civilian employees is a relic of a bygone era, reflecting the needs and characteristics of the last century’s workforce.

While the world has changed dramatically, the civil service system has remained stuck in the past, obstructing government from attracting, hiring, retaining and developing skilled employees. It’s time for Congress to pass legislation that directly addresses the most severe problems in the government personnel system.

Our Role

Building on the Partnership and Booz Allen Hamilton’s 2014 report “A New Civil Service Framework,” the Partnership for Public Service and The Volcker Alliance are working together to launch a brand new initiative, Renewing America’s Civil Service, aimed at bringing our civil service system into the modern age.  This effort is supported by an advisory panel of distinguished leaders who have senior executive experience in both the public and private sectors.  This panel has helped develop a set of guiding goals and principles for Renewing America’s Civil Service. In this paper and below, we’ve outlined some of our key goals for these reforms. For media information, please see our press release.


Create a unified civil service system for the entire federal enterprise

The federal civil service system has become increasingly obsolete. As that system has aged, agencies have broken from its ranks, cutting deals with Congress for specific flexibilities to further their own unique missions and circumstances. The end result? Agencies not only end up competing with the private sector for talent—but also with each other.

We need to build a civil service system that is far more unified than it is today. If the federal government is to act as an integrated enterprise, it must operate under a common core framework, level the playing field across the federal landscape in the competition for talent, and enable agencies to acquire and leverage that talent to deal with the complex challenges that face our nation.

Improve recruitment and hiring

On average, it takes at least three times as long for federal agencies to hire employees as it does in the private sector. Today’s cumbersome hiring processes need to be streamlined to help attract young people and mid-career professionals seeking to move into government from a different sector, and those willing to serve in government for shorter stints.

Adjust pay

The government’s compensation system is almost 70 years old and is disconnected from the broader job market, failing to distinguish between the skills and demand for different occupations. An occupation-specific, market-sensitive compensation system would attract and retain people with the skills needed to better serve the public.

Manage performance

The performance management system should recognize exceptional performance and enable agencies to properly address poor performers. Probationary periods for new employees should provide for meaningful review of their performance.

Develop manager and supervisor skills

Candidates for manager and supervisor positions should be promoted only if they prove they have the required skills. Continuous training must be a prerequisite to managing employees.

Create a true government-wide Senior Executive Service

The SES needs to fulfill its original mission of providing leaders with strong managerial skills to tackle the most pressing challenges across government. The government should be able to promote technical experts on a separate track.

Together with the Senior Executives Association and The Volcker Alliance, we’ve worked to identify solutions to strengthen the federal civil service, including at the leadership levels.

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Hold leadership accountable

Workforce management is a strategic imperative and leadership responsibility. Political leaders should be held accountable for managing talent and supporting a capable human resources workforce within their agencies, and federal executives must treat talent management as essential to successful mission planning and execution.


The Partnership for Public Service and the Volcker Alliance led a positive and constructive discussion about what is needed to modernize the outdated federal personnel system. Representatives from the current administration and leaders from civilian, military and private sector organizations shared best practices, lessons learned and ideas to help build a high-performing government that can effectively address the significant challenges facing our country.


Renewing America’s Civil Service

The Partnership and the Volcker Alliance introduce a new initiate to press for an overhaul of the outdated federal civil service system, backed by a bipartisan group of leaders from across sectors.

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Building the Enterprise: A New Civil Service Framework

In the report, the Partnership calls for major reforms to the federal government’s decades-old civil service system and lays out a plan to modernize areas that include the outdated pay and hiring policies.

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Cyber In-Security: Strengthening the Federal Cybersecurity Workforce

The Partnership and Booz Allen Hamilton examined the state of the federal cybersecurity workforce by interviewing experts inside and outside of government and examining public testimony, reports and documents.

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Cyber In-Security II: Closing the Federal Talent Gap

In this report, the Partnership and Booz Allen Hamilton examine the challenges the federal government faces in building a first-class cybersecurity workforce and offers recommendations for creating a government-wide strategy for retaining and recruiting top cyber talent.

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Bracing for Change: Chief Human Capital Officers Rethink Business as Usual

What are the key challenges federal human capital leaders face today? Are budget constraints likely to prompt workforce reductions? These are just a few of the topics covered in the latest survey of chief human capital officers by the Partnership and Grant Thornton LLP.

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From Inefficient to Integrated: Automating Human Resources Processes Improves Workforce Management

The Partnership and Cornerstone OnDemand released this issue brief discussing numerous technology solutions available to improve federal agencies’ HR systems.

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Embracing Change: CHCOs Rising to the Challenge of an Altered Landscape

The Partnership and Grant Thornton LLP surveyed 60 chief human capital officers and agency HR leaders regarding the challenges facing the federal workforce. The report also includes recommendations from these leaders for rebuilding and strengthening the federal workforce.

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