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Working for America

Modernizing Merit:
OPM’s Guiding Principles for Civil Service Transformation







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April 14, 2004

Photo of Kay Coles James, OPM Director, and link to her Biography For well over a century, the merit system principles have served our civil service, and our nation, well. However, while those principles continue to assure the integrity of that system for 1.8 million Federal employees and the American people they serve, we are long overdue to modernize the policies and processes we use to put those principles into practice. As the successor to Theodore Roosevelt's Civil Service Commission, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is the steward for those merit principles, and it is imperative that we lead that modernization.

This concept paper is designed to begin a dialogue among policymakers, human resource professionals, and stakeholders, including veteran service organizations, managers and unions, on the way ahead - what must be done to build a civil service system for this new century without compromising on the foundational values that have served us so well.

Even as OPM has continued to preserve the ideals of the merit system, we have also been at the very center of one of the most transformational changes in the Federal civil service in the last fifty years - the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). And while the regulations establishing its new human resources (HR) system are still in the final stages, it is not too soon to look to DHS as a model for modernization - in the substance of that new HR system as well as in the collaborative process we used to design it. In this regard, Congress has recognized the vital role OPM must play in the modernization process, and it is a role we embrace as part of our institutional mandate.

Civil service modernization does not signal a belief that "one size fits all." That is the old paradigm of reform. Rather, we must develop and deploy a civil service system that is flexible, agile and responsive enough to adapt to the diverse missions, cultures, and work forces of the agencies that make up the Executive Branch. We believe that we can do so and still remain true to the common ideals that have made our Federal service so special. Of course some elements of our civil service system, such as the successful Federal Employee Health Benefits Program, will remain uniform, capitalizing on the tremendous efficiencies and economies that can only be achieved by leveraging the Federal government's immense "buying power" as a single employer. In this regard, finding the right balance between flexibility and uniformity will be our greatest challenge.

This is an exciting time to be an HR professional in the Federal Government. Fundamental change is taking place, and we are at its forefront.


Kay Coles James

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