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Efficiency, not politics, drives LA civil service reform

Some legislators have suggested some additional reforms of Louisiana’s civil service system (after some were completed internally recently), prompting at least one observer to call into question the impact of the changes. A review of the existing system demonstrates the merit of the changes.

One alteration advocated was reducing the role of seniority in layoff situations, such as what the state faces now. Rule 17 Section 2 of the Civil Service Code governs layoff procedures of permanent employees (that is, those who are not appointees who may be fired for any reason or those in the probationary period who have much fewer protections). It dictates that a plan be formulated subject to director approval or the entire State Civil Service Commission.

Current standards, however, are exceedingly generous. Three options are presented under a plan, two of which require that layoffs of non-problem employees be done on the basis of experience largely invariant to overall rating. There are five designations used to rate – “outstanding,” “exceeds requirements,” “meets requirements,” “needs improvement,” “or “poor.” As long as one of the two most recent ratings of an employee is from the first three designations, that employee has displacement rights under the first two options which means if layoffs then they occur solely in order of seniority (after the exhaustion of other options to layoffs, if any).

In other words, seniority would allow somebody with one subpar review in the past two years nevertheless to be retained when somebody with far higher ratings but less time on the job to be laid off. It also would permit lower-ranked adequate individuals to be retained if they had more seniority than higher-ranked adequate individuals. Also worth noting is that if personnel go “unrated” – for example, somebody is hired, passes the one-year probationary period and then six months later a layoff situation erupts before the annual review so this person is considered “unrated” for their current year’s performance – this is treated as “meeting requirements” and thus protected. (This situation also could occur, under special circumstances or by sheer laziness or incompetence by superiors that left people unrated, to far more senior personnel.

Only the third option, where seniority is given a back seat to merit – meaning the most protected from layoffs are “outstanding” employees, followed by “exceeds requirements” and finally “meets requirements” with seniority determining order only within these ranks – introduces more than just the most basic merit considerations into layoff decisions. But units are not required to follow this option and in fact are prohibited from using it if more than 10 percent of their personnel are “unrated.”

At the very least, civil service rules could be changed to require the third option be used except in the case of too many unrated personnel. At present, seniority protects the demonstrably inferior performers at the expense of better performers who have not served as long in the case of layoffs.

Further, the system is geared to give adequate grades to almost all classified employees. On average, over the past three years from agencies that supplied data (higher education in particular appeared notoriously lax in reporting), excluding the unrated and involuntary (for rules violations among other things) and probational separations, fewer than 20 per year or a microscopic 0.035 percent of all employees were given a “poor” rating and only 0.65 percent or an average of 368 a year got “needs improvement” ratings. This means an incredible 99.3 percent of the state of Louisiana’s rated classified employees that did not get separated are at least adequate in their jobs. This result argues that either the system is too lenient or the highest quality workforce by far among all workers in the state has been corralled by the state.

And it’s not like the state detaches its few problem employees on a regular basis. In the last fiscal year, out of a full-time equivalent classified workforce of nearly 64,111 (which understates the actual count by several thousand), only about 300 were dismissed or resigned to avoid dismissal – not even a half of a percent. (Over 1,700 did not survive in employment in their probationary period, about 2.5 percent, still a suspiciously low figure but illustrating the far greater protection one gets after making probation).

What all this points to is that the state probably retains too many low performers, and then protects them from layoffs on the basis on seniority. (In fact, over the past three years the plurality of employees have been rated “exceeds requirements,” a staggering 46.6 percent.) This also gets to the heart of another issue, that annual pay raises go to all adequate employees – again, over 99 percent of the classified workforce. A more realistic evaluation system would end up giving out fewer annual raises and thereby serve as greater motivational tool to produce quality work.

So when talk about how such reforms may be attempts to politicize the system, this reveals an ignorance about the true nature of the system and misunderstands the merit of the ideas behind the changes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


In your post on possible changes to the Civil Service system, your last paragraph talks about ignorance of the true nature of the system and a misunderstanding of the merit of the ideas behind the changes. What is your experience in the system? I'm assuming you're faculty (tenured?), not a classifed civil servant.

I think your post belies a basic misunderstanding of the true role of LA civil servants (you know we are expected to work for the citizens of the state, not just our politically appointed bosses). I am a 27-year veteran with "outstanding" ratings. I would love to point out how you're wrong. Dialogue at