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U.S. Office of Personnel Management - Ensuring the Federal Government has an effective civilian workforce

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Performance & Accountability Reports (PARS)

Strategic Plan 2002-2007


OPM Statutes and Authorities

The President has authority, provided by the Constitution and by specific laws, to oversee the human resources management functions of the Executive branch and of agencies outside the Executive branch that employ persons in the competitive service. By law (5 U.S.C. 1104), "the President may delegate, in whole or in part, authority for personnel management functions, including authority for competitive examinations, to the Director of the Office of Personnel Management." That law also provides that the Director of OPM may delegate some or most of those functions to agencies and establish standards for their conduct. Other laws have given additional human resources management authority directly to the Director of OPM.

The Civil Service Act of 1883 established the Civil Service Commission in response to scandals over giving Government jobs as rewards for political service. Even then, however, a major goal was to improve the quality of the Nation’s civil service. Other countries had already established high quality benchmarks by hiring civil servants on the basis of merit, often determined by education or a written test.

For nearly 100 years, the United States Civil Service Commission evolved in ways that strengthened its hand in improving the management of the Executive branch. The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 continued that evolution by transferring human resources management responsibilities to a new Office of Personnel Management that was more directly accountable to the President. Executive Order 12107 of December 28, 1978, and Reorganization Plan No. 2 of 1978 (5 U.S.C. App.), effective January 1, 1979, implemented that change.

Over the years, many other laws embraced developments in private sector human resources management practices and showed a continuing public interest in fairness and efficiency for the civil service. A partial listing of those laws gives some sense of the range of our responsibilities: Retirement Act (1920), Classification Acts (1923, 1949), Veterans’ Preference Act (1944, including procedures for reductions in force and adverse actions, and establishing a "rule of 3" to limit hiring only to top candidates), Annual and Sick Leave Act (1951), Incentive Awards Act (1954), Group Life Insurance Act (1954), Government Employees Training Act (1958), Health Benefits Act (1959), Federal Salary Reform Act (1962), Civil Rights Act (1964), Federal Employee Pay Comparability Acts (1970, 1990), Intergovernmental Personnel Act (1971), Equal Employment Opportunity Act (1972), Social Security Reform Act (1983), Federal Employees Retirement System Act (1986), Whistle Blower Protection Act (1989), Federal Employees Family-Friendly Leave Act (1994), Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (1994), Veterans Employment Opportunities Act (1998), Long Term Care Security Act (2000), and continuing provisions placed in annual appropriations acts.

Presidents have also issued key Executive orders on human resources matters, such as those broadening the scope of the competitive service and establishing human resources offices in departments and agencies (E.O. 7916, 1938); establishing the personnel security program (E.O. 10450, 1953); permitting collective bargaining (E.O. 10988, 1962); defining responsibilities for employee training (E.O. 11348, 1967); setting out rights and responsibilities in collective bargaining (E.O. 11491, 1969); and prohibiting discrimination based upon sexual orientation (E.O. 13160, 1999) and status as a parent (E.O. 13152, 2000).

All of these laws and Executive orders explicitly support the activities described in our goals and objectives. In the aggregate, they give us responsibility to serve the public by providing human resources management leadership and high quality services based on merit principles, in collaboration and partnership with Federal agencies and employees and their representatives.

At the core of Federal human resources law are these merit system principles, found in 5 U.S.C. 2301(b):

(1) Recruitment should be from qualified individuals from appropriate sources in an endeavor to achieve a work force from all segments of society, and selection and advancement should be determined solely on the basis of relative ability, knowledge, and skills, after fair and open competition which assures that all receive equal opportunity.

(2) All employees and applicants for employment should receive fair and equitable treatment in all aspects of personnel management without regard to political affiliation, race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age, or handicapping condition, and with proper regard for their privacy and constitutional rights.

(3) Equal pay should be provided for work of equal value, with appropriate consideration of both national and local rates paid by employers in the private sector, and appropriate incentives and recognition should be provided for excellence in performance.

(4) All employees should maintain high standards of integrity, conduct and concern for the public interest.

(5) The Federal work force should be used efficiently and effectively.

(6) Employees should be retained on the basis of the adequacy of their performance, inadequate performance should be corrected, and employees should be separated who cannot or will not improve their performance to meet required standards.

(7) Employees should be provided effective education and training in cases in which such education and training would result in better organizational and individual performance.

(8) Employees should be

(A) protected against arbitrary action, personal favoritism, or coercion for partisan political purposes, and

(B) prohibited from using their official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election or a nomination for election.

(9) Employees should be protected against reprisal for the lawful disclosure of information which the employees reasonably believe evidences

(A) a violation of any law, rule, or regulation, or

(B) mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.

As one of the first commissioners in the Civil Service commission, Theodore Roosevelt fought to reform the Federal workforce from a "spoils system" to a system which relied on individual merit.
Photo of Theodore Roosevelt
Roosevelt stated, "The purpose of the Civil Service Commission is to secure an absolutely non-partisan public service; to have men appointed to and retained in office wholly without reference to their politics. In other words, we desire to make a man’s honesty and capacity to do the work to which he is assigned the sole tests of his appointment and retention." The Atlantic Monthly Magazine, February, 1891
One hundred and twenty years later after its founding, the Civil Service Commission is now known as the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). The name has changed, as have Administrations. The commitment to Merit System Principles, however, is as strong as ever.
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