A Time to Serve: Proposals for Renewing the Civil Service

Rudy Mehrbani, Tess Byars, and Louis Katz • August 2020

The federal government employs about two million civilians in agencies responsible for meeting the needs of the American people. The people who staff these agencies play a critical role in solving the most pressing challenges of our day, including racial injustice, climate change, and national security. Yet, the personnel at the heart of these agencies have gone neglected and unsupported for decades. The situation has worsened under the Trump administration, which has actively sought to shrink the government by keeping vast swaths of the federal bureaucracy unstaffed, installing corporate hacks and wealthy donors in many of the positions it does choose to fill, and driving out career officials representing decades of institutional knowledge and expertise. Without implementing fundamental changes to address the broken personnel system, the next administration will struggle to adequately confront the challenges facing the nation.

In this report Rudy Mehrbani, Tess Byars, and Louis Katz propose a set of recommendations to structurally reform the federal personnel system, including: restructuring the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to better meet other agency’s needs, changing the hiring practices within agencies to create more accessible pathways into the government for diverse workers through recruitment and meritocratic principles, and ensuring democratic accountability in the appointment process.