In a sweeping set of proposals, the federal government took a first step yesterday toward simplifying and speeding up its notoriously complicated and molasses-slow hiring, firing and promotion procedures.
A task force that is part of the President's reorganization effort offered an array of options that tilt toward giving federal managers greater flexibility in dealing with their employees. They include proposals to end the requirement that a manager select from the top three candidates for a job, for instance, and suggest that agencies be permitted to exempt some jobs from competitive examination requirements and that the statue that limits the number of family members who can hold federal jobs be repealed.
Civil Service Commission Chairman Alan K. Campbell invited over 700 federal agencies and public interest groups to comment before Sept. 27 on this portion of what the government termed "the most comprehensive set of changes in federal personnel practices ever considered."
Officials expect some of the proposals to spark considerable controversy, particularly among employee unions concerned about the move toward greater freedom for management.
The task force plans to make final recommendation based on reaction to the options, to the President by mid-November. Option papers on other aspects of federal employment will be released in coming weeks.
The options cover a range of employee concerns. In hiring, the Civil Service Commission would delegate varying degrees of authority to agencies to recruit and examine prospective employees.
One of the options for improving equal employment opportunity and affirmation action on the other hand, would give the commission stronger central authority for control and enforcement over other agencies in such matters.
To improve handling of employee disputes, including discrimination complaints and other grievances, one suggestion is to take away the adjudicating function of the commission, whose impartiality is often questioned, and to use binding arbitration by an outside body.
The option papers were developed by the Federal Personnel Management Project, part of the President's reorganization effort. They were based on staff studies and a series of hearing around the country where employees and others voiced their opinions on the problems. Another such meeting will be held in the District on Thursday from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Departmental Auditorium on Constitution Avenue between 12th and 14th Streets NW.
In the press briefing yesterday at the project's Buzzare Point headquarters, Campbell and other officials presented the options against a backdrop of charts designed to illustrate dramaticaly problems of the existing system.
One of the charts stretched for about 20 feet along a wall and represented the case history of an 18-month attempt by a manager to fire an employee whose own coworkers agreed she should be removed for incompetence, officials said. Other charts, in a spaghetti of lines and boxes, showed the procedures involved in a three-year age discrimination case, and a one-year attempt to fill a key management job.
Questioned about the possibility of arbitrary or abusive actions by managers as a result of their greater "flexibility" Campbell said, "We did not start out with the idea that we must have a system in which abuse is impossible. Our emphasis is on a system which can respond, move quickly."
You can't have such a system, he said, without also courting at least the possibility of abuse.
What is called for, he said, is a balance between managerial initiatives and employee protection, and a certain assumption that managers can be trusted.
Campbell said he has an open mind on all the options, even though he went on record recently as favoring one of them - a dramatic curtailment of the hiring preference the federal government gives to veterans. In a speech to an American Legion group, he observed that though veterans constitute only 22 per cent of the nation's labor force, they hold 50 per cent of all federal jobs and were given what amounts to unlimited tenure once in a civil service position.
Asked about the potential for "politicization" of the civil service if the proposals are implemented, Campbell indicated that there would still be merit procedures and oversight. He also indicated that safequards against political abuses might be at least as effictive under a new and simpler system as they proved to be under the old, complex system.
Among the other options were:
Liberalizing early retirement benefits to lessen the impact of a reduction-in-force and allowing managers to select cut (mandate retirement) at age 55, employees with 30 years service.
Allowing agencies to restrict consideration for some jobs to top-rated minorities or women (though the proposal notes this policy might be criticized as reverse discrimination by those excluded).
Streamlining promotions by giving management more flexibility to promote, and requiring a new probation period for supervisors' or managers' positions.
Making sure that personnel system obstacles are not used as an excuse not to hire women and minorities, for instance, by providing scholarships for skilled jobs, and improving education and outreach efforts.
Transferring responsibility for equal opportunity complaints from the commission to a civil rights agency with voluntary arbitration as a substitute for hearings.