More unclassified employees a welcome change, and long overdue

May 16, 2013

As the 2013 legislative session nears its end, a very positive change concerning a number of employee positions is receiving serious consideration by lawmakers. This change would convert a number of open employment positions to more resemble the employment rewards and requirements of private-sector employees.

For state employees, there are essentially two kinds of employee classifications—classified employees (Merit System employees) and unclassified employees. Unclassified employees more resemble private-sector employees; their employment status has some basic protections, but their employment is directly and predominantly dependent upon their performance. Classified employees are governed by the Merit System; their employment status is strictly governed by burdensome state statutes that more resemble a bureaucracy-incentivizing union contract than a human resources policy manual. By use of onerous reporting requirements and procedures and bureaucratic intermediaries, the statutes make it very difficult to improve or separate non-performing classified employees, and also inherently reward mediocre or bad behavior of employees while failing to reward the good performance of exemplary classified and unclassified employees.

As a former state employee (unclassified employee) for more than six years, I repeatedly witnessed the flaws with the merit system. I even worked in a division that included both unclassified and classified employees. The unclassified employees accomplished the vast majority of the work because the classified employees openly admitted that the bureaucratic Merit System protected them from being separated for poor performance. As an unclassified employee for the state, I worked for both Democrat and Republican managers and administrations, and never once felt pressured to act contrary to my ethics or felt that my employment was threatened. Unclassified employees have the ability to be (and often are) compensated more in line with the private sector because they generally have more responsibility and are generally subject to more accountability.

OCPA has written about the need to modernize the state’s workforce, which will allow for employees who have earned a raise to receive it. A chief obstacle to paying state employees more and making government more effective and efficient is the dysfunctional Merit System. Union and employee “association” opposition to this change is to be expected. One needs only to look at their revenue stream, political contributions, and “educational” materials to understand their perspective. Defenders of the status quo generally make the most noise and concoct the most elaborate fear tactics. The reality is that thousands of unclassified employees already work well for the state, and their ethics and performance are not comprised but rather often improved. It’s time to convert more state employee positions to unclassified-employee status.

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