The Office of Personnel Management announced yesterday it will abolish the controversial test that was found to have discriminated against blacks and Hispanics seeking entry-level professional and administrative jobs with the federal government.
The decision to scrap the Professional and Administrative Career Exam (PACE) means that individual federal agencies will be free to devise their own hiring procedures for many of their Grade 5 ($12,854) and Grade 7 ($14,328) jobs. Agencies will be expected to follow OPM guidelines and affirmative action procedures previously agreed to by the government.
Because of the change, more than 35,000 people who had become eligible for jobs by passing the PACE will have to reapply if they want to be considered for the limited number of government openings.
Organizations representing minorities had argued the PACE was "culturally biased" and discriminatory. OPM data from 1978 showed, for example, that 42 percent of the whites got passing grades of 70 or better compared to 12.9 percent of the Hispanics and 5 percent of blacks.
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which went to court in 1979 to successfully challenge PACE, said yesterday that its abolition would have a positive effect.
"Almost anything would be better than PACE," said Barry Goldstein, an attorney for the original plantiffs in the suit.
However, Alan K. Campbell, who headed the OPM during the Carter administration when the test was first challenged, said yesterday that although he had problems with PACE, "a complete abandonment of a test at the entry level is fraught with danger."
Campbell, now executive vice president for management and public affairs with ARA Services Inc., in Philadelphia, said the danger "is that movement away from objective selection leads to other kinds of qualifications--ranging from political to nepotism to random selection."
OPM Director Donald J. Devine said the new approach represents the best alternative available for implementing the consent decree worked out last year by the government with U.S. District Court Judge Joyce Hens Green .
"We will not be selecting individuals by means of the best merit-hiring procedures," said Devine, "and for this reason, we are not giving direct appointment to the competitive civil service system. Nevertheless, this is the best available solution, given the very tight constraints imposed by the decree. Merit selection is wounded, but not dead."
The new hiring system, to be put into place within four to six weeks, will allow federal agencies to select employes for beginning professional and administrative jobs without the use of tests.
Workers hired under the new system will come in under the Schedule B authority that is normally used to hire summer employes, lawyers, some teachers and others for whom tests are not used.
Once hired under the Schedule B system, workers must serve the normal one-year probation period required of employes hired under merit system rules. At the end of the probation period, those beginning professional and administrative workers can, if they do well, be eligible for promotion to the regular civil service. They will get regular civil service salaries and benefits from the outset of their hiring.
During the probation period, employes will not be entitled to regular civil service safeguards such as appeal rights for layoffs, suspensions, furloughs and other so-called adverse actions.
It will be possible, OPM says, for many of the employes who are not promoted out of the Schedule B system to remain in government indefinitely, just as lawyers who are in Schedule B through their entire careers.
In the consent agreement, OPM had pledged its support of affirmative action hiring and said the government would either modify PACE, or come up with another system to select people for the jobs.
OPM spokesman Patrick Korten said the government had "concluded that it was impossible to come up with . . . an exam that produces the result every time you use it, of passing rates for minority applicants that are proportinate to the number taking that exam."