January 22, 2001
WASHINGTON, Jan. 22, 2001-Bush administration officials must move quickly to reform the federal government's system of personnel management if they want the president's first term to be a success, says a new Heritage Foundation paper.
Three experts with extensive experience in federal government staffing-George Nesterczuk, vice president of Global USA Inc., Donald J. Devine, an adjunct scholar at Heritage, and Robert Moffit, director of domestic policy studies at Heritage-say President Bush should install as many political appointees as necessary to advance his agenda, restore merit and accountability to the civil service, reward high performers, and reduce or consolidate overlapping federal programs.
Nesterczuk is a former staff director for the Civil Service Subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Reform. Devine led the Office of Personnel Management from 1981 to 1985. Moffit was a former senior official at the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) under President Reagan.
According to them, President Bush should "take the lead in building broad public support for comprehensive reform" of the civil service, such as allowing the private sector to handle certain government functions, reforming federal employees' compensation packages, and consolidating the central management agencies of government.
Because of time lost during the election dispute, some liberal analysts are pressuring the president to rely more on career civil servants than on political appointees. He should resist such pressure, the Heritage experts say, and agency heads should draw a "bright line" between the policy-driven functions of appointees and the expertise-driven efforts of civil servants.
"Career civil servants should not be tasked with major policy change," they write. "Political appointees, personally loyal to the president and fully committed to his policy agenda, are essential to his success, especially in the crucial early months of his presidency."
The administration should rigorously measure the effectiveness of these appointees, meting out rewards and punishments as needed and making sure they implement administration policy, the writers say.
All recent presidents have said they would cut the federal workforce. Those who succeeded, according to Nesterczuk, Devine and Moffit, did so "because they used such broad-scale management tools as eliminating personnel along with entire functions of government, setting reduction targets and monitoring progress, and focusing on political responsibility."
The writers say President Bush should follow the example set by President Reagan, who used merit to determine not only how much to pay federal employees but whether they should be retained. "The new president should stoutly champion his right to manage the executive branch, to make performance appraisal meaningful, to protect better performers during reductions in force and to reward better performers with higher pay," they say.
The writers cite studies showing that federal employees are not underpaid, as some experts claim, relative to market conditions. (Quit rates in the private sector, they note, top 10 percent; federal turnovers hover near 3 percent.) Some are overpaid; some are underpaid. To bring federal pay into line with private-sector practices, they suggest more flexibility for OPM to set federal pay based on free market rates. They also call for the establishment of richer and more varied health benefits and a system of retirement benefits for federal workers.
The president can expect strong opposition from those who have a vested interest in the status quo, they say: "Washington's notorious Iron Triangle-the alliance of the federal bureaucracy, congressional staff and interest groups based inside the Beltway-is perhaps at its strongest in resisting civil service reform."