Reinventing Government: It's Harder Than It Looks

August 10, 1994|By JOSEPH ADLER

ANNAPOLIS — Annapolis.--Barton Wechsler, in the spring edition of Review of Public Personnel Administration, presents a case of government reinvention gone awry.

Florida has over 120,000 state employees, most of whom are covered by the state's civil-service system. Before it was reformed the system was decentralized, allowing operating agencies to establish their own procedures governing the recruitment, selection and training of employees.

State pay scales lagged 10 to 30 percent behind those of local jurisdictions and even more behind the private sector. More than 1,600 different job classes existed. Reclassification was often used by managers to grant otherwise unavailable pay increases. Performance evaluations were poorly done, and mistrusted equally by management and employees. Training opportunities were uneven and no systematic program for career development existed. Agency directors complained about the cumbersome hiring process. High rates of turnover, burn-out and job dissatisfaction existed.

In sum, the system ill served the needs of both employees and citizens of the state.

Gov. Lawton Chiles and Lt. Gov. Buddy McKay, elected in 1990, made a fundamental restructuring of government a major initiative. They proposed giving agency line managers even greater authority over the personnel function. A four-stage, two-track process was begun, with participation from the executive and legislative branches, unions, the private sector and members of the public.

Technical aspects of reform included reducing the number of classifications, moving to a market-based compensation plan, further decentralizing personnel functions, instituting new training programs and introducing ''Total Quality Management'' as the new philosophy for state government.

A second, more global, approach was taken by a Civil Service Reform Commission headed by the lieutenant governor. Due to its diverse membership, this group was more concerned with political issues and was unable to come up with a consensus.

How effective was Florida's attempt to reinvent and reform its FTC personnel system? Professor Wechsler reports: ''Overall, Florida's civil-service system has been neither reformed nor deregulated. At the agency level, virtually every component of personnel management operates as it did before the passage of civil-service reform.''

One reason the reform effort failed, he suggests, was because it did not satisfy several critical constituencies. The legislature was unwilling to give up its budget authority or give discretion and control to agency managers. Agency managers were distrustful of proposals for greater employee involvement in decision making. Managers were fearful that gains in productivity would be rewarded with reductions in budget and staff. Employee unions were unwilling to give managers more authority, fearing that favoritism and unequal treatment would result. Rank-and-file employees feared that ultimately they would have more to lose under a new personnel system.

Further, the proposed solutions did not address the problem at hand. Agency managers and others wished merely to tinker with the system. Advocates of reform, on the other hand, wanted nothing less than total elimination of the old system and its replacement with something wholly new.

No one attempted to determine the real causes of dissatisfaction with the state personnel system. Instead, a set of pre-determined solutions were applied.

Proponents of reform promised that enough savings would be generated for pay increases and employee training, but Florida's budget situation made it difficult to deliver these promises, causing employee disillusionment.

Is Florida unique? Are conditions in Maryland vastly different? Would our legislature act differently and give agency managers true flexibility and discretion? Would other interested parties accept changes in their current roles to achieve a more responsive personnel system? Preliminary indications are not encouraging.

Maryland's personnel system was studied in 1992 by the Governor's Commission on Efficiency and Economy in Government. Many, though not all, of the problems in Florida were found here. The commission called for a restructured personnel system stressing modern human-resource management principles. Modifications in recruitment, hiring, classification, compensation, performance appraisal, training, career development and employee relations were recommended.

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