The Reinvention of Public Personnel Administration: An Analysis of the Diffusion of Personnel Management Reforms in the States

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J. Edward Kellough University of Georgia Sally Coleman Selden Lynchburg College The Reinvention of Public Personnel Administration: An Analysis of the Diffusion of Personnel Management Reforms in the States
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J. Edward Kellough University of Georgia Sally Coleman Selden Lynchburg College The Reinvention of Public Personnel Administration: An Analysis of the Diffusion of Personnel Management Reforms in the States Reform is a common theme in American public administration. During the twentieth century at least 12 major administrative reforms have taken place at the federal level and countless others in state and local governments. Frequently, these reforms have addressed the operation of public personnel management systems. Recent efforts associated with the reinventing government movement, for example, have proposed numerous alterations to civil service rules and procedures, and many jurisdictions have implemented significant changes in their personnel practices. This article examines the extent to which these kinds of personnel reforms have been implemented by state governments. A reform index is developed to document the considerable variation among the states in their approach to personnel practices. Several state characteristics are associated with scores on this index, including legislative professionalism, which bears a positive relationship to reform, and the level of unemployment within a state and the proportion of state employees associated with public employee unions, which are both negatively associated with reform. Administrative reform has been a common refrain in the history of American public administration. Governments periodically and regularly have undertaken administrative changes as they have struggled to find ways to continually improve public management and the delivery of public services. From the beginning of the twentieth century until its close, one can count as many as 12 substantial and highly visible efforts to reform federal administrative arrangements (about one every eight years on average), and, of course, there were ground-breaking reforms in the late nineteenth century associated with the initial implementation of merit principles (Hays and Kearney 1997; Ingraham 1992; Kellough 1998). 1 There have also been innumerable reform efforts in state and local governments (National Commission on State and Local Public Service 1993; Selden, Ingraham, and Jacobson 2001). Obviously, reform may be undertaken for political reasons as well as for more instrumental or managerial reasons (Kellough and Lu 1993; Thompson, Riccucci, and Ban 1991). Whatever the primary impetus, significant change in the administrative structure of government is often the result. Frequently, such effort has focuses on the public personnel system and the manner in which it is organized and operated. The focus on personnel practices as the object of reform is not surprising given the central importance of personnel management to effective government operations J. Edward Kellough is an associate professor in the Department of Public Administration and Policy at the School of Public and International Affairs of the University of Georgia. His major area of academic interest is public personnel management. His research addresses equal employment opportunity and affirmative action, representative bureaucracy, the reinventing government movement, and civil service reform. He is the author of numerous articles in scholarly journals. Sally Coleman Selden is an associate professor of management at Lynchburg College. Her current research is focused on strategic human resource management and collaboration between public, nonprofit, and private organizations. Articles have appeared in Public Administration Review, American Journal of Political Science, Administration and Society, American Review of Public Administration, Review of Public Personnel Administration, Journal of Public Administration Education, Journal of Public Policy and Management, and Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory. The Reinvention of Public Personnel Administration 165 (Ban and Riccucci 1997; Nigro and Nigro 2000). It is through the personnel function, after all, that agencies recruit, select, develop, pay, and (it is hoped) retain highly qualified employees. These public servants, in turn, directly influence the nature and implementation of government policies. They are often the individuals who are responsible for translating objectives contained in legislative enactments or executive orders into the daily operations of government programs. Furthermore, since the 1960s, the personnel management function in government has, in many ways, grown and become even more critical as several new issues have arisen to demand the attention of public managers. Equal employment opportunity, pay equity, and the role of unions are but a few of those concerns (Hays and Kearney 1995; Nigro and Nigro 2000). As a result, the field is increasingly dynamic and complex. If the personnel system is not operating optimally, the effectiveness and perceived legitimacy of government activities can suffer significantly. But personnel administration in the public sector not only performs essential functions, it also sits at the intersection of competing values. Since the rise of merit systems in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, public personnel management practices have been designed largely to insulate the public service from the intrusion of politics and partisanship. The goal has been the achievement of politically neutral competence. At the same time, however, there is a need for political oversight of the public bureaucracy and a reasonable level of management flexibility. The challenge is to find a way to temper the control and flexibility that are necessary with appropriate levels of protection for public servants. In such a situation, neither imperative can operate to the exclusion of the other. Limitations on the exercise of political influence and managerial authority are inevitable if merit principles related to concerns such as equity, competence, and political neutrality are to be promoted. The problem is finding the right balance. 2 In this context, and in a system in which public expectations are high, effective public management can be quite difficult. Indeed, the thrust of much of the effort associated with civil service reform in recent years has been to find ways to cope with legal constraints. In particular, reforms have pushed steadily toward making the administrative state more responsive to political (especially executive) direction and overcoming what is seen as an overly restrictive structure of merit system rules and procedures, which some critics have argued has severely limited management capacity and organizational performance (Ingraham 1995; Ingraham, Thompson, and Sanders 1998; Levine 1985; Osborne and Gaebler 1992; Savas 1987; Savas and Ginsburg 1973). Obviously, proposals for reform focusing on these specific issues are not entirely new. In some ways, their antecedents go back for decades, even as far back as the Brownlow Committee of the late 1930s, and similar notions certainly were reflected in the Civil Service Reform Act of In the 1990s, however, these ideas resurfaced and were advocated with an increased intensity by new champions calling for the reinvention of government or a new public management. It would not be a mischaracterization to view the reinventing government and New Public Management movements in this country (and around the globe) as a political or social campaign. The effort enjoyed the support of numerous proponents, and the vocabulary of reinvention permeated much of the ordinary language of public administration. Citizens were depicted as customers, and managers were encouraged to be entrepreneurs. Reinventing themes were echoed in the Clinton administration s National Performance Review (Gore 1993) and, to a lesser extent, in the report of the Winter Commission (National Commission on State and Local Public Service 1993). With respect to public personnel administration, reforms were proposed to deregulate merit systems, to remove barriers to leaner and more responsive government, and to augment agency and managerial discretion (Selden, Ingraham, and Jacobson 2001). Specifically, reformers advocated such change as the substantial decentralization of authority for personnel functions, the contracting out of numerous personnel management tasks, the reduction of job classes, the establishment of broader pay bands, movement away from an adversarial approach to labor relations, and an increased focus on strategic human resources or workforce planning (Cipolla 1996). Given this broad agenda, a single approach to personnel reform may not exist; public institutions are likely to adopt different innovations depending on their particular needs (Selden, Ingraham, Jacobson 2001). To develop a fuller understanding of personnel reforms, we need knowledge of the extent to which these kinds of changes in public personnel systems are in practice. This article examines that issue in the context of state government. Indicators of the presence of these reforms are developed and applied to the states. 3 An exploratory effort is then made to uncover characteristics of states embracing this reform agenda. Measuring Personnel Reform in the States This article considers a wide range of human resource practices that are consistent with recent efforts to reform public personnel systems. The analysis is based on information collected by the National Association of State Personnel Executives (NASPE 2000) and the Government Performance Project (GPP 1998). The dependent variable, a broad index of the implementation of public personnel reform in the states, is computed from six measures: an 166 Public Administration Review March/April 2003, Vol. 63, No. 2 index of the decentralization of authority for personnel functions; an index of the extent to which personnel-related tasks are contracted out; the use of a relatively low number of job classes (job titles); the implementation of a system of broad pay bands (broad-banding); the use of labor-management partnerships; and an index of the extent of workforce strategic planning within each state. Each of these concepts has been central to the agenda associated with the reinventing government movement. The decentralization of responsibility for personnel management functions, for example, is perhaps the most frequently emphasized reform included as part of the reinvention initiative. Osborne and Gaebler (1992) argue strenuously that authority should be pushed downward in the organizational hierarchy as much as possible, so that managers within individual agencies will be empowered to run their organizations more effectively. With regard to public personnel management specifically, the decentralization of responsibility is seen as a way of overcoming the inefficiency and rigidity that often characterize traditional civil service systems in which central personnel agencies establish and enforce policy. The National Performance Review stressed this view in its recommendations for the restructuring of the federal civil service (Gore 1993). The first report of the National Commission on the State and Local Public Service (Winter Commission) also strongly embraced this idea (National Commission on State and Local Public Service 1993). The Winter Commission concluded that Table 1 Measurement of Variables Comprising Public Personnel Reform Index Index of decentralization of authority for personnel functions (NASPE 2000) Index of contracting out of personnel functions (NASPE 2000) Index measuring the use of a relatively small number of job classes (NASPE 2000) Implementation of a system of broad pay bands (NASPE 2000) Use of labor management partnerships (NASPE 2000) Index measuring the use of strategic workforce planning (GPP 1998) Additive index of the following, minus eight: 1 = centralized responsibility 2 = shared responsibility 3 = decentralized responsibility Establish qualifications Classification Position audits Compensation Recruitment Selection Performance evaluation Employee promotion Training Range: 1 19 Alpha:.74 Mean: 8.96 Std: 2.91 Additive index of the following: 1 = contracts out 0 = does not contract out Personnel data entry Drug testing Health insurance Salary survey Security checks Temporary services Test development Training Worker s compensation Range: 0 9 Alpha:.75 Mean: 2.80 Std: 2.32 Number of Job Classes 1 Total Number of Employees Larger values indicate the presence of a smaller number of job classes relative to the total number of state employees. Mean:.95 Std:.03 1 = broad-banding 0 = traditional grade structure Mean:.33 Std:.47 1 = presence of labor management partnerships 0 = absence of labor management partnerships Mean:.44 Std:.50 Index constructed as part of the Government Performance Project (see Selden et al. forthcoming, for a discussion of index construction). The index is scaled from 1 to 20, with higher scores indicating more comprehensive, formal workforce planning. Mean: 7.73 Std: 5.22 many state civil service systems are rule bound and complicated, and, in such systems, merit is often the last value served (National Commission on State and Local Public Service 1993, 25). The commission suggested that states would be better served by decentralized systems in which agencies and departments had fuller authority over core personnel practices such as recruitment, selection, classification, compensation, and adverse actions. Under such an approach, the central personnel agency for a state would act largely as a consultant to agencies and departments (rather than as a regulator) as they exercised their enhanced authority. Our index of personnel reform includes a measure of the extent to which states have decentralized nine core personnel functions (table 1). Advocates for reinvention have also stressed that whenever possible, government should explore the possibility of contracting with private organizations for the provision of public services. Osborne and Gaebler (1992) suggest that efforts to seek private contractors to provide services previously provided directly by government could ultimately improve service delivery through the introduction of competition. It has also been suggested that contractors may achieve economies of scale that allow them to operate more efficiently than government. Of course, governments in the United States have long contracted out the provision of supplies and equipment, but the new emphasis on contracting has focused on the desirability of entering into contractual relationships with private organizations for the delivery of a wide range of services as a way of saving money (Kettl 1993). The provision of staff services, including selected personnel management functions and support activities, is frequently considered to be an area of government activity with numerous new opportunities for contracting (Gore 1993; Siegel 2000). The second component of our reform index, illustrated in table 1, is a measure of the degree to which several specific personnel management services are provided to states by private contractors. 4 The Reinvention of Public Personnel Administration 167 Public-sector classification and compensation systems are also frequently targeted for reform or reinvention. The objective here is to overcome the perceived inflexibility of traditional classification structures. Typically, these systems incorporate occupational families or series of related jobs linked to career ladders. For example, an agency might employ a set of budget analyst positions (such as analyst I, analyst II, and analyst III) with a logical career progression and increasing responsibility as one moves through the series. When such job series are constructed for numerous occupational fields, a proliferation of job classes (that is, job titles ) can result. Proponents of reform have lamented that governments often have thousands of individual job classes, and the specific requirements associated with each classification tend to rob managers of discretion in how they select, assign, and pay employees. The Winter Commission recommended that states operate with no more than a few dozen job titles with some provision for distinctions between positions within job families to reflect different levels of experience (National Commission on State and Local Public Service 1993, 27). The commission noted that the National Academy of Public Administration had recommended a similar reform for the federal civil service and suggested that such a system would allow much greater flexibility in staffing government according to shifting needs and would also permit greater flow of staff among agencies and departments (27). Our reform index includes a measure that reflects the extent to which states are operating with classification systems that are generally consistent with the Winter Commission s recommendations. We believe, however, that states with larger numbers of employees reflecting larger and perhaps more complex governmental structures might reasonably be expected to have larger numbers of job classes than states with fewer total employees. As a result, our measure is based on the ratio of the total number of job classes to the total number of employees in the state civil service. For each state, we subtract that quotient from unity (1) to establish a measure that increases as the number of job classes relative to total employment declines (table 1). Personnel reformers have further advocated altering pay structures to increase management flexibility (National Commission on State and Local Public Service 1993, 27; NAPA 1991). A common approach to accomplishing this objective is the concept known as broad-banding. Under broad-banding, systems with numerous pay grades are reorganized to dramatically reduce the number of pay categories. For example, 18 or 20 pay grades might be collapsed into no more than five grades, with a much broader range of positions within each grade. Such an arrangement would give managers greater discretion to determine pay levels for specific positions provided, of course, that overall budget limitations are followed. Drawing on data from the National Association of State Personnel Executives, we include in our general index a measure of whether states have implemented broad-banding as a way of reforming their pay structures. Reinventors also advocate that government move away from traditional adversarial relationships with public employee unions toward greater cooperation. The mechanism usually proposed to accomplish this is known as a labor management partnership (Gore 1993, 87; Osborne and Gaebler 1992, ; Reeves 1997). The concept, as advocated by its proponents, calls for cooperation between unions and management to more effectively reinvent or change public organizations (Gore 1993, 88). Apparently, this emphasis on cooperation, at least with respect to the federal government, is grounded in a belief by reformers that agency reinvention can not be accomplished without the support of employee unions (Hyde 1994). The Winter Commission advocated similar cooperative arrangements between unions and management in state and local government (National Commission on State and Local Public Service 1993, 46 47); consequently, our reform index described in table 1 includes a measure of the presence of labor management partnerships within the states. The final element included in our general index of the reform of public personnel management is a measure of the degree to which states practice strategic human resources planning (table 1). To some extent, this is part of a larger movement to incorporate strategic planning into public management more generally. According to Berry (1994), strategic planning should consist of specifying an organization s mission, identifying its relevant constituencies, delineating strategic goals, and developing strategies to achieve those goals. The focus on strategic planning with respect to human resour
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