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Achieving federal employee accountability: 1 man's take

The civil service system takes a lot of hits from critics. Many in Texas and the rest of the country say it does little but provide a level of protection that allows too many poor performers to remain on the job when they should be let go.

That sentiment is so strong in some circles -- even within the ranks of federal employees themselves -- that it has led to calls to reform, or even end, the merit-based civil service system; perhaps replacing it with one that allows "at-will" firings. But there are good reasons why the law is structured for protecting the rights of federal employees.

About the only alternative would seem to be one of political patronage, which has already been determined to lead to a workforce that may be mediocre and which owes its loyalty to whoever is in power, not the people of the U.S.

Acknowledging that some change is needed, here's what human capital pundit Jeff Neal believes ought to be some essential elements of any reform pursued.

Employ a trickle-down model: Accountability needs to start at the top. Presidents should be able and ready to oust political appointees. Top-level agency appointees should be prepared for the same treatment. The cascade effect would put more focus on fixing problems than finding scapegoats.

Make management actions based on political affiliation a non-starter: Any official hiring or firing for political reasons should face immediate dismissal.

Target discipline policies rather than hiring policies: Basing action on merit still has value.

Be sure all stakeholders play a role: There is a great deal of research in many different disciplines that should be drawn upon. Let experts from each contribute and do it transparently so that the results have credibility.

Whether reform occurs remains to be seen. In the meantime, we can acknowledge that the system is complicated. Federal workers facing what they believe to be unfair, abusive or arbitrary action have a right to protect themselves and an experienced attorney can help.

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