Leadership and HRM in the Public Sector Research Paper

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Leadership and HRM in the Public Sector

At the national level, leadership in human resource management has been problematic, if not negative, in its effects. The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 and related legislation established the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to provide leadership and innovative personnel programs for the federal establishment. Instead, in the first ten years after its creation, OPM established a record of missed opportunities, failed initiatives, and declining organizational effectiveness, as documented in comprehensive reports issued in 1989 by both the U.S. General Accounting Office and the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (Ingraham and Ban, 2008).

By any measure of performance against legislative intent, OPM has been largely an organizational failure in the conduct of its programs and the achievement of its goals. OPM has not become the primary management office for the president, as envisioned by its first director, Alan Campbell. It has not succeeded in transforming public personnel management at the federal level into a modern system of human resource management. The regulatory and procedural barriers of the past continue to inhibit managerial action in the federal personnel system. The technical innovations of the Civil Service Reform Act have not made any significant contribution to the overall efficiency or effectiveness of government. Rather, it can be argued persuasively that the innovations, as implemented, have actually detracted from the capacity of agencies to perform their appointed tasks (Lane, 2009).

Under the Reagan administration, OPM became an overtly political instrument of the conservative agenda -- yet the Reagan objectives of controlling personnel costs and reducing governmental employment were not achieved. All trends have continued upward -- employment totals, payroll and benefits costs, and average grade and salary of the federal public service have all increased significantly since 1980. The political successes of OPM, in terms of instituting systems of partisan control, have had serious implications for organizational effectiveness. As an instrument of government, OPM has seen its influence decline and its control over the human resource policies of government diminish. Realistically, the most striking results of OPM's policies and actions have been negative, making the personnel system and the public service increasingly marginal to the activities of government (Ingraham and Ban, 2008).

Throughout its history, OPM has demonstrated either disinterest or inability in planning, developing, and implementing personnel programs to deal with human resource problems. When Constance Horner, then director of OPM, delivered the Hudson Institute report to the Congress, she said it should "stimulate the sort of thought and conversation we will need to build support for significant changes in our personnel policy," (Newell, 2007) yet she was not prepared to propose any specific programs or administrative actions. Her primary reaction to the report was still another attack on "the over centralized, overregulated, cumbersome, inflexible personnel procedures now in place" (The Washington Post, 1989). Similarly, when the National Commission on the Public Service released its report in the spring of 1989, OPM again offered no immediate public response.

Unquestionably, OPM has not provided the leadership vital to the effective solution of the problems of the public service (Wright, 2000). Instead, analytical assessments and proposals for improving the condition of the public service and its personnel system have been generated largely by congressional committees, the General Accounting Office, individual federal agency initiatives, and public interest groups outside the government, such as the National Academy of Public Administration, the National Commission on the Public Service, and the Twentieth Century Fund. From 1980 to 1988, there was a significant leadership vacuum at the administrative center of the federal human resource program in the Executive Branch. In 1989, the leadership of OPM began to address important issues; however, the effectiveness of new initiatives is as yet unclear.

The Need For A New Approach In The Face Of A Problematic Future

Few would dispute that this is a troubled time for the public service and for the personnel system that serves it. Yet, this situation is not without opportunities for positive development. Anti-government and anti-public service rhetoric has begun to subside. President Bush introduced a new tone of support and appreciation for the actual and potential contributions of federal employees in the early days of his administration, and the new director of OPM, Constance Newman, has demonstrated sensitivity to the issues that confront the public personnel system (Wolf, 2005). Opportunities do exist for the rebuilding of a human resource system to answer the demands of the future.

There are many approaches to the problems of the public service. Textbooks in personnel administration and human resource management provide detailed models for examining the processes of workforce planning, job analysis and design, recruitment, selection, training, performance appraisal, labor relations, and soon. These technical methods define the specific aspects of the personnel issues. From another perspective, management and organization studies focus on ways to achieve productivity in the workforce, including motivation, leadership, planning, and participation. Still other studies are issue-oriented and recommend specific actions appropriate from a particular vantage point to address public workforce shortcomings. Some of the more recent studies cited earlier in this thesis represent these multidimensional approaches to revitalizing the public service (Wright, 2000).

Clearly, nothing less than an approach that focuses on the critical dimensions of the public employment system will solve the potentially paralyzing problems of the public service. The only realistic hope for a solution lies in a comprehensive review of the public service and its place in democratic governance. This type of in-depth analysis will require more than the application of routine techniques of public personnel administration, and certainly more than a recitation of organizational behavior theory. Old formulas aren't sufficient. This approach should integrate personnel functions, behavioral concepts, and organizational goals in a human resource management system which will contribute to the creation and maintenance of an effective public service.

The analysis offered in this thesis derives from a review of the status of today's public service. Although the result of this review is discouraging, the analysis is more than a recapitulation of problems and recommendations. A new conceptual framework and four analytical lenses are employed in an attempt to capture the major themes and dynamics which underlie the contemporary crisis of the public service (Wright, 2000). The concepts of flow and competence are standard aspects of human resource management. They encompass the principal functions of attracting, training, promoting, assigning, and retaining employees. The areas of energy and commitment include concepts from organizational and political theory which address issues of motivation, performance, and identification with service to the community.

Key Concepts of Personnel Flow

Flow focuses on the availability of sufficient numbers of people for the operation of government programs and agencies. The demographics of the American labor force in general, and of specific agency employees, are key considerations in assuring the maintenance of the public workforce at adequate levels. Characteristics of both external and internal labor markets, which provide the supply of available workers for public enterprise, are considered. Organizational demand is also a critical consideration (Newell, 2007). The ebb and flow of public programs -- their expansion and contraction at different points in agency life cycles -- influence workforce supply issues. Demand for employees is conditioned by the availability of sufficient budget and positions, and is documented by the administrative process of job analysis. An additional facet of the personnel flow lens is the influence on the available workforce of such factors as competitiveness of pay and benefits, attractiveness of working conditions, opportunities to do meaningful work, and prospects for continuing advancement in the service. Career patterns, employment systems, and personnel policies are also addressed because of their direct influence on personnel flow. Finally, human resource planning is recognized and considered as a necessary mechanism for the management of personnel flow (Ingraham and Ban, 2008).

Work-Force Competence

Required competencies in the public service fall into three major categories. First, technical competencies are those occupational skills and knowledge necessary for performing the specialized work of individual agencies. Competencies of the second kind, program and agency, involve the traditions and well-developed technical and administrative characteristics of existing programs which can only be learned in a hands-on environment within the agencies. Finally, the public service must have a governance competency in order to work within the processes of the constitutional system. Governance requires special skills, knowledge, and sensitivities in order to assure that agencies function as a part of the national community. Each of these areas of competence poses special problems for public agencies. Public organizations are required to maintain competencies which are constantly being eroded by internal conditions and external political and demographic forces. While overall federal policies and specific agency practices influence the development and utilization of human resource talent, conditions in the external labor market, relating to basic skills of the working population, also contribute to problems of maintaining adequate levels of worker competence for the accomplishment of public programs.


An agency's effectiveness increases as employees are able to engage their work with energy and enthusiasm. While some organizations can…

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