New hiring system warranted, but don’t disturb civil service

GUEST OPINION

STATE OFFICIALS LEGITIMATELY CONCERNED about a cumbersome hiring practice that can take months to fill slots should be very careful that they don’t remove any of the fundamental protections provided by the state’s civil service system.

That system is the product of Progressive-era reforms that sought to replace a corrupt patronage system in which politicians rewarded political workers with government jobs regardless of their ability to do those jobs. It has worked well for more than 100 years, helping to ensure that qualified applicants were hired and no one was fired over politics.

That doesn’t mean officials should not consider ways to make it easier to hire government workers. Streamlining the process makes sense. Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch and other high-ranking officials say the administration remains committed to the fundamental principles of civil service. But they also say they are facing a hiring crisis: Many baby boomers are in retirement, and many more are getting close. Some of this is self-inflicted. Faced with the loss of union protections under Act 10, some state employees near retirement left early. Nevertheless, it’s a real problem. In Huebsch’s department, 53 percent of employees are 50 or older.

The Journal Sentinel reported this week that Huebsch and others have been trading emails on possible changes to the hiring system, which some fear could affect civil service.

Marty Beil, executive director of the Wisconsin State Employees Union and a bitter critic of the governor, said he was suspicious of why the Walker administration was proceeding so quietly and not working closely with the Office of State Employment Relations, which is responsible for civil service.

“It seems to me that this is more politically motivated than functionally motivated. This is not being done on its merits,” Beil said.

Huebsch and three other top Walker appointees say that’s not the case. Matt Moroney, deputy secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, told us that retirements and other departures have hit the department hard and that too many good applicants are frustrated by the process.

This is not just a Wisconsin problem, and states such as Arizona, Colorado and Tennessee are making significant changes, such as hiring more “at will” employees, that go beyond what state officials here are considering.

Huebsch promised that won’t happen here. “We can remove none of those protections. They must stay in place...” he said. “We wouldn’t go back to that (patronage) system for anything.”

The administration needs to find a way to ensure that the current system can hire qualified employees in a timely manner. But it should hear from a wide array of voices before it does anything - including from state workers and their unions. — Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 1

At issue:
State hiring reforms
Bottom line:
Keep civil service protections


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