Preserving the Integrity of the Federal Merit Systems: Understanding and Addressing Perceptions of Favoritism

Preserving the Integrity of the Federal Merit Systems: Understanding and Addressing Perceptions of Favoritism
Preserving the Integrity of the Federal Merit Systems: Understanding and Addressing Perceptions of Favoritism
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This report summarizes the findings of MSPB's research into employee perspectives regarding how prevalent they believe that favoritism is within the Federal merit systems, how and when favoritism occurs, and the potential impacts on individuals and organizations. Further, this report examines potential reasons underlying perceptions of favoritism and outlines steps that Federal agency leaders and supervisors can take to ensure that decisions are merit-based and untainted by personal favoritism and discusses what Federal employees can do to help them successfully compete for advancement and recognition in a merit system.

Table of Contents

Executive Summary i

Overview i

Findings ii

Recommendations iii

Introduction 1

Background 1

Method 3

Purpose 4

Federal Employee Perceptions of Favoritism and Nepotism 7

How Prevalent Are Perceptions of Favoritism and Nepotism? 7

How Do Employees Perceive That They Are Affected by Favoritism? 10

What Supervisory Actions Do Employees Perceive as Evidencing Favoritism? 10

What Factors Influence Promotion Decisions (And Are They Fair)? 17

Comparing Perceptions of Appropriate and Actual Selection Criteria 17

Cautions Regarding Selection Criteria 20

Possible Manifestations of Favoritism in the Selection Process 23

Perspective from Federal Employees 23

Perspective from Human Resources Management Employees 24

Selected Cases Involving Issues Related to Favoritism 26

Potential Explanations for Perceptions of Favoritism 31

Intentional Favoritism: The Influence of Relationships over Merit 32

Unintentional Favoritism 34

Professional Relationships That Do Not Conflict with the Merit System Principles 35

Assessing Adherence to the Merit System Principles and Taking Appropriate Action 36

The Critical Role of Supervisors in the Federal Merit Systems 41

Supervisors’ Responsibilities to Mission and Staff  41

Supervisory Behaviors and Perceptions of Favoritism 42

Consequences of Employee Perceptions of Favoritism 49

Conclusions and Recommendations 55

Why Agencies Should Be Concerned about Perceptions of Favoritism 55

Prevalence of Perceptions of Favoritism in the Federal Workplace 55

Role of Supervisors 56

Recommendations 57

Appendix A: Merit System Principles 59

Appendix B: Prohibited Personnel Practices 61

Appendix C: Federal Merit Systems Survey Methodology 63

Appendix D: Federal Merit Systems Survey Email Request 65

Appendix E: Federal Merit Systems Survey 67

Appendix F: Seeking Redress for Favoritism from the Office of Special Counsel 87

Appendix G: Correlations Between Perceptions of the Supervisor’s Behavior and Perceptions of Favoritism 89

Appendix H: Correlations Between Perceived Favoritism and Aspects of Employee Engagement 91


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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