I came to Washington with the promise -- and the obligation -- to help rebuild the faith of the American people in our government. We want a government that can be trusted, not feared; that will be efficient, not mired in its own red tape; a government that will respond to the need of American people and not be preoccupied with needs of its own.
Taxpayers who work hard for their money want to see it spent wisely.
We all want a government worthy of confidence and respect.
That is what reorganization is all about.
We have no illusions that this task will be easy. Our government and its bureaucracy have evolved over many generations and the work of reform cannot be completed in a single year or a single administration.
But we have begun. We have adopted zerobased budgeting. We have cut the burden of paperwork on the public, and excessive government regulation, replacing it with free market competition. At OSHA and in other federal agencies, we are discarding obsolete regulations and rewriting rules in plain and understandable English. We have cut significantly the number of employes in the Executive Office of the President and abolished hundreds of unneeded advisory committees.
But all that is not enough. The single most important step we can take is a thorough going reform of the civil service system. Civil service reform will be the centerpiece of government reorganization during my term in office.
I have seen at first hand the frustration among those who work within the bureaucracy. No one is more concerned at the inability of government to deliver on its promises than the worker who is trying to do a good job.
Most civil service employes perform with spirit and integrity. Nevertheless, there is still widespread criticism of federal government performance. The public suspects that there are too many government workers, that they are underworked, overpaid and insulated from the consequences of incompetence.
Such sweeping criticisms are unfair to dedicated federal workers who are conscientiously trying to do their best, but we have to recognize that the only way to restore public confidence in the vast majority who do work well is to deal effectively and firmly with those who do not.
The two complaints most often heard against the present system are that federal employes have too little protection against political abuse -- and too much protection against legitimate assessment of performance and skills. These charges sound contradictory, but both of them happen to be true. And the system that perpetuates them needs to be changed.
For the past seven months, a task force of more than 100 career civil servants has analyzed the civil service, explored its weaknesses and strengths and suggested how it can be improved. Their judgments are reflected in the message I will send to the Congress today.Some of the leaders of Congress are here. We have had unprecedented close working relations. I want to outline these proposals and explain the reasoning behind them. They represent the most sweeping reform of the civil service system since it was created nearly 100 years ago.
The simple concept of a "merit system" has grown into a tangled web of complicated rules and regulations. Managers are weakened in their ability to reward the best and most talented people -- and to fire those few who are unwilling to work.
The sad fact is that it is easier to promote and transfer incompetent employes than to get rid of them. It may take as long as three years merely to fire someone for just cause, and at the same time the protection of legitimate rights is a costly and time-consuming process for the employe.
You cannot run a farm that way, you cannot run a factory that way, and you certainly cannot run a government that way.
We have lost sight of the original purpose --which was to reward merit. More than 90 percent of all federal employes get a so-called "merit" rating and last year out of about 2 million employes, only 226 people lost their jobs for incompetence or inefficiency.
So my first proposition is this: there is not enough merit in the merit system. There is inadequate motivation because we have too few rewards for excellence and too few penalties for unsatisfactory work.
We must encourage better performance in ways that are used widely and effectively in private industry. Top federal workers are ready and willing to respond to the risks and rewards of competitive life, and public service will be healthier when they have that chance.
We must strike a new balance that preserves the merit principle while giving managers the incentive and the authority to manage.
We propose to do this, first, by creating a Senior Executive Service, whose 9,200 members will be available to serve wherever in the government they are most needed. This will be voluntary. They will be eligible for annual bonuses for superior performance, and can be moved from the Senior Executive Service back to their previous civil service status for poor performance.
I will also ask Congress to authorize the use of incentive pay for the 72,000 federal managers and supervisors in grades GS-13 through GS-15, which is a far more attractive and sensible acknowledgement of merit than the silver water carafes and thicker carpets that pass for recognition today. They will no longer recieve automatic "step" increases in pay without regard to performance.
Another proposal which will improve managerial excelence is a speedier and fairer disciplinary system, which will create a climate in which managers may discharge non-performing employes -- using due process -- with reasonable assurance that their judgment, if valid, will prevail. At the same time, employes will receive a more rapid hearing for their grievances.
The procedures that exist to protect employe rights are absolutely essential. But employe appeals must now go through the Civil Service Commission, which has a built-in conflict of interest by serving simultaneously as rulemaker, prosecutor, judge and employe edvocate.
So, my second proposition is: employes still have too little protection for their rights.
I propose to divide the present Civil Service Commission into two bodies -- an office of Personnel Management to improve the productivity and performance of federal workers, and a Merit Protection Board to stand watch against merit abuses and resolve the appeals brought by employes.
I will also propose an Office of Special Counsel to investigate merit violations and protect "whistleblowers" who expose gross management errors and abuses.
Finally, I propose the creation of a federal labor relations authority to remedy unfair labor practices within the government much as the National Labor Relations Board does in the private sector. In addition, we will continue to work with Congress and federal employes to develop legislation which, while recognizing the special requirements of the federal government, will improve federal labor practices.
One other serious defect remains. That is the network of rules governing hiring, staffing and tenure. We should let each agency do its own hiring, rather than the Civil Service Commission, which now may take as long as six to eight months to fill important positions.
Current rules often impede the hiring of qualified women, minorities and the handicapped by giving veterans a lifetime advantage under civil service laws -- far beyond the benefits provided under other veterans programs, which are designed to ease the readjustment from military to civilian life. Therefore, we propose to reduce the preferential advantage given to non-disabled veterans to a 10-year period, and to end this preference altogether for senior military officers who retire with pension benefits after a full military career. At the same time, we will strengthen provisions to ensure that disabled veterans and those who served during and since Vietnam are fully protected under our civil service laws.
These civil service reforms are the heart of our government reorganization effort.
Let me be straightforward about the implications of all this.
Our proposals will mean less job security only for incompetent federal employes, but conscientious civil servants will benefit from a change that recognizes and rewards good performance.
Our proposals deal with the major changes that must now be made. By enacting them we will make employment in the civil service more challenging, and a more profitable, productive and gratifying career.
But the greatest beneficiaries will be the American people, who can expect to see a more competent and efficient and responsive government -- one that is worthy of the people it was created to serve.