ENGLISH FOR CONGRESS POSITION PAPER (Revised April 2014)

Civil Service Reform

The Civil Service Reform Act of 1976 abolished the GS-16, GS-17, and GS-18 super-grades and replaced them with five levels of Senior Executive Service (SES) political appointees that could be replaced at will because they were considered to be professional managers, not subject to the job protections and restrictions of the civil service. The rationale for establishing the SES program was to make Federal agency managers more responsive to the direction and mandates of their political overseers.   In that respect, the SES has far exceeded the expectations of the framers of the program, but only at the hidden cost of truncating the promotion opportunities for career civil servants with the attendant loss of institutional memory and management competence which maintains coherence and internal stability in the day-to-day operation of Federal agencies and conduct of their programs.  These management failures are very troubling in those agencies responsible for oversight of industries and programs directly affecting public health and safety.

The history of the Federal civil service since the establishment of the SES has been characterized by continuing failures of government to protect the public safety.  The airline crash in Florida a number of years ago was directly attributable to the FAA's management failure to implement the National Transportation Safety Board's recommendation to install fire suppression systems in the cargo compartments of passenger aircraft.  The 2011 crash of a contractor operated commuter airliner near Buffalo indicates that FAA oversight failures are still causing loss of life.  The Katrina disaster fiasco on the Gulf coast revealed to the entire world the collective incompetence of all the government agencies involved, but most seriously those of the Federal government.  Recent revelations of continuing Federal oversight failures in other industries are very troubling.  The ongoing problems of enacting the Affordable Health Care Act are a very serious failure  which illustrates the diminished Federal government's institutional capability to competently implement very and a complicated extremely important program vital to the well being of tens of millions US citizens.

The Congress should establish an independent commission of unbiased experienced professional managers and management experts to fully investigate and evaluate the history and efficacy of the Senior Executive Service.  It must prepare a comprehensive report of its findings and recommendations for future Congressional attention.   Specifically, the Commission should investigate whether the current practice of bringing in outside management with little or no management experience at the highest levels of Federal agencies is advisable given the serious health and safety enforcement failures of the past 30 years of political appointments to senior management levels of Federal agencies.

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