Organized resistance to the president's controversial, sweeping civil service reforms has ended. The few remaining die-hard opponents of the new hiring and firing system appear to have gone underground. The legislation is expected to clear Congress shortly, and be signed into law within the next 20 days.
Many of the original critics of reform have been steamrollered into silence. Others have come to support the reforms as they have been reworked by the Senate and House.
One of the early opponents, now a believer in this form of reform is Bernard Rosen. He's the former executive director of the Civil Service Commission, holding down that top career job during the period when the merit system was buffeted by the Nixon White House, and by Democrats and Republicans in Congress seeking patronage plums.
Rosen has offered this explanation of the pending reform bill (the Senate version), which he says contains necessary safeguards to protect individual workers and the merit system. His comments:
The bipartisan Merit System Protection Board (the watchdog) would now be required to analyze the activities of the Office of Personnel Management and report annually to Congress on whether the actions of this new Office 'are in accord with merit principles and free of prohibited personnel practices." Thus, the watchdog will have a clear mandate with regard to the powerful new Office of Personnel Management.
The Merit Systems Protection Board would now be authorized to review the policies made by the director of the OPM and be required to strike down, in whole or in part, any such policy that violates merit principles or permits prohibited personnel practices; the board would also be required to 'prohibit future agency compliance with any rule it determines to be invalid.' The watchdog will therefore have the strength to match the responsibilities.
The MSPB would be authorized to submit its requests for appropriations and its recommendations for legislation directly to Congres, rather than through the president's Office of Management and Budget. This will assure the independence of the board.
The board's special counsel, a presidential appointee with great authority and discretion to investigate and charge individuals who have engaged in prohibited personnel activities, would have a fixed term and be removable only for cause. This will help assure the independence of the special counsel.
Personnel actions, including reassignments to less responsible work and reductions in pay affecting career executives in the new Senior Executive Service would now come within the jurisdiction of the special counsel. Advance notice and reasons is writing would have to be given for such adverse actions. This reduces the vulnerability of career executives to political and personal favoritism.
The requirement that the SES be 90 percent career, 10 percent political has been tightened for added protection. For instance, it no longer leaves at the discretion of management which positions may be filled by career workers and which by political appointment. Instead, the Senate specifies criteria the OPM must determine are met before a job may be filled by a political appointee. This diminishes the possibilities of improper personnel practices in the supergrade service.
"The bill recognizes that open competitive exams conducted by the central personnel agency are the proven vehicle for keeping political and personal favoritism at a minimum. It no longer grants unlimited authority to OPM to delegate such examining to agencies . . . For most jobs the agencies will be insulated from political and personal pressures in this sensitive part of the hiring process.
"In the matter of employe appeals, because our fundamental concept of justice presumes a person innocent until proven guilty, the bill requires agencies rather than the employe to carry the burden of proof when agencies take adverse actions."
Rosen believes the "negotiated settlement" between the White House, Congress, unions and public interest groups has produced reforms that will improve government, yet safeguard employes against arm-twisting and political pressures. It was that sort of pressure, after all, that resulted in the civil service system now about to be reformed.