Civil Service Reform

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

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. 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.

Upgrade the performance management system

Today’s performance management system is conceptually sound—but very flawed in execution. Agencies do a poor job of describing organizational performance requirements and translating them into meaningful individual and team performance expectations. There are also few consequences—positive or negative—when those expectations are not met or when they are exceeded.

Managers and employees will take performance management more seriously if managers are rewarded for setting high expectations for their employees and if they have the tools to hold them accountable for meeting those expectations. Good performance management begins with good supervisors and managers. If their performance improves, so too will that of their employees. In a break with long-standing tradition that is largely the product of the General Schedule’s industrial-age rigidity, agencies should stop picking the best technicians for promotion to first-line supervisor.

Remake the federal hiring system

There will always be a need for federal agencies to recruit and hire mission-critical talent. Unfortunately, the current federal hiring system is broken. An analysis of one agency concluded that hiring a single employee involved 110 steps. This cumbersome process discourages talent from pursuing careers in government and limits the effectiveness of agencies who struggle to put in place needed staff. But creating a more flexible, unified approach will require more than just the efforts of human resources staff—managers and supervisors need to be involved as well.

Federal managers and leaders should bear the ultimate responsibility to ensure their agency is attracting, assessing and selecting highly qualified and motivated individuals—and they need to be held accountable when they don’t. The government also needs to build state-of-the-art job applicant assessment systems. Human resources offices need to be strengthened and empowered to use data and analytics to more efficiently evaluate and identify top candidates. In addition, laws need to be amended to provide the same hiring flexibilities to agencies across government. The confusing patchwork of authorities and allowances that most hiring managers struggle to understand is doing more harm than good.


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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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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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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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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