Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Osburn introduces civil service reform measure


Civil Service Reform to be Introduced by Rep. Osburn

OKLAHOMA CITY – Rep. Mike Osburn, R-Edmond, has introduced a major modernization of the state’s civil service system.

The civil service system, also known as merit protection, is essentially the state’s human resources model for the state workforce. It has not received any major update since the early 1980s and is widely viewed as outdated and ineffective.

“Every taxpayer should be interested in this issue because the state’s biggest expense is its workforce. We will do far better for Oklahoma’s taxpayers and state employees alike by modernizing this extremely outdated system,” Osburn said. “The effect of this bill in practice will be more profound than almost any other policy we pass. It empowers the state workforce like never before, which will be truly transformational across the entire government.”

Osburn, who held an interim study on the topic last year, has worked with several stakeholders to develop a plan to be introduced in House Bill 3094 that will:

  • place all new hires into unclassified civil service, effective Jan. 1, 2021;
  • allow existing classified employees a choice to transfer to unclassified civil service or remain in the existing classified service until they leave their job; and
  • preserve due process for unclassified employee protests of disciplinary actions – including protections for whistleblowers and appeals of alleged politically-motivated actions – that would be heard before independent administrative law judges.

HB 3094 will be heard Wednesday in the House Government Modernization Committee, which Osburn chairs.

“This bill starts the process to make state government a more attractive employer, set employees up to succeed and keep the protections necessary for a strong civil service,” Osburn said. “It will remove mountains of red tape so managers can actually manage, good employees can be rewarded and prospective employees can pursue state service without byzantine application processes.”

Gov. Kevin Stitt identified civil service modernization as a priority in his State of the State speech.

The current civil service system was put in place in 1982 and has not received any significant updates since then. It is overseen by the Merit Protection Commission, a six-person state agency governed by a nine-member commission.

Osburn served on the Merit Protection Commission from 1996 to 1999.

“Even then, the system was a dinosaur that needed to be modernized. That’s even more true today,” Osburn said. “As a commissioner, it was easy for me to observe both the deficiencies and benefits of the system. The needle we are trying to thread is to throw out the deficiencies while keeping the benefits, and I believe this bill does that.”

Under the bill, the Merit Protection Commission would remain in place until no classified employees remained in state government. The bill assigns administration of the new, unclassified civil service system to the Human Capital Management Administration within the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.

If passed, the bill would allow each agency and managers within the agency to set hiring, promotion, pay and other human resources policies for unclassified employees in a manner that meets the needs and resources of each agency.

The state has more than 30,000 employees across more than 100 agencies. Today, about two thirds are classified employees.

“Two thirds of the state workforce can’t be managed with the current best practices in human resources because the archaic civil service system prevents it,” Osburn said. “It’s time to modernize the system and unleash innovation. Ultimately, this leads to better management, better performance, better pay and a stronger workforce that provides improved value to taxpayers.”

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