Managing Public Employees in the Public Interest: Employee Perspectives on Merit Principles in Federal Workplaces

Managing Public Employees in the Public Interest: Employee Perspectives on Merit Principles in Federal Workplaces
Managing Public Employees in the Public Interest: Employee Perspectives on Merit Principles in Federal Workplaces
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This report is based on a survey in which we asked over 40,000 Federal employees for their views regarding how well their organizations' actions comported with various aspects of the merit system principles (the nine basic standards governing the management of the executive branch workforce codified at 5 U.S.C. § 2301). Some survey items reflected more positive views than others. Issues related to stewardship appeared to pose particular challenges for agencies, although results also reflected concerns related to fairness and protection, which are the subject of previous and ongoing MSPB research. This report discusses survey data for all of the merit system principles, with a focus on the stewardship items that employees indicated were the weakest, such as: (1) using the workforce efficiently and effectively; (2) eliminating unnecessary functions and positions; and (3) addressing poor performers effectively. The report also contains recommendations for how agencies can improve their stewardship practices.

Table of Contents

The Merit System Principles – 5 U.S.C. § 2301(b) i

Executive Summary iii

Introduction 1

Touchstones for a Diverse Civil Service 1

Methodology and Data Use 3

The Role of Stewardship in the Merit System Principles 7

The Interrelationship between Fairness, Protection, and Stewardship 7

The MSPs Require that Federal Agencies Serve as Stewards of the Federal Workforce 12

Vision and Direction 15

The Need for Clearer Direction and Better Utilization of Staff 15

The Importance of Communication 16

Investing in Employee and Organizational Productivity 21

More Investment in Employees is Needed 21

A Long-Term View of Employee Development and Performance 26

Employees’ Responsibility to Manage Their Careers and Development 30

Employee Retention 31

Retaining the Better Employees 32

Unavoidable Decline in Retention Expected 35

Addressing Retention 37

Recognition, Rewards, and Accountability 39

Measuring, Rewarding, and Incentivizing Performance 39

Addressing Performance Issues 42

Conclusions and Recommendations 45

Findings 45

Recommendations 46

Appendix A: Information on the 2010 Merit Principles Survey 49

Appendix B: The 2010 Merit Principles Survey Instrument 53

Appendix C: Results from the 1996 Survey Questions on MSPs 77

Appendix D: Results from the 2010 Survey Questions on MSPs 79

Appendix E: The Prohibited Personnel Practices – 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b) 81

Appendix F: MSPB’s Employee Engagement Questions 85


Federal employees, their supervisors, agency management, union personnel, especially Human Capital officers and employees across the U.S. Federal Government may be interested in this report.  Additionally, members of Congress, and Federal managers within the Office of Management and Budget, and Office of Personnel Management that is responsible for policy making authority may find this guide helpful as a reference with human resources and civil service matters.  Additionally, students pursuing research for courses within these fields, especially public administration, human resources, employment law, organizational development, and industrial-organizational psychology may find this primary source document that deals with civil service issues helpful for assignments.

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