Civil Service Reform Act of 1978

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Civil Service Reform Act of 1978
Great Seal of the United States (obverse).svg
Long titleAn Act to reform the civil service laws.
Enacted bythe 95th United States Congress
EffectiveOctober 13, 1978
Public law 95-454
Statutes at Large 92  Stat.   1111
Titles amended 5 U.S.C.: Government Organization and Employees
U.S.C. sections created 5 U.S.C. ch. 11
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the Senateas S. 2640 by Abraham A. Ribicoff (D-CT) on March 3, 1978
  • Committee consideration by Senate Governmental Affairs
  • Passed the Senate on August 24, 1978 (87-1)
  • Reported by the joint conference committee on October 4, 1978; agreed to by the Senate on October 4, 1978 (agreed) and by the House on October 6, 1978 (365-8)
  • Signed into law by President Jimmy Carter on October 13, 1978

The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, (October 13, 1978, Pub.L. 95–454, 92 Stat. 1111) (CSRA), reformed the civil service of the United States federal government, partly in response to the Watergate scandal. The Act abolished the U.S. Civil Service Commission and distributed its functions primarily among three new agencies: the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), and the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA).

Watergate scandal Political scandal that occurred in the United States in the 1970s

The Watergate scandal was a major American political scandal that lasted from 1972 to 1974, following a burglary by five men of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C. on June 17, 1972, and President Richard Nixon's subsequent attempt to cover up his administration's involvement. After the five burglars were caught and the conspiracy was discovered—chiefly through the work of a few journalists, Congressional staffers and an election-finance watchdog official—Watergate was investigated by the United States Congress. Meanwhile, Nixon's administration resisted its probes, which led to a constitutional crisis.

United States Office of Personnel Management United States federal government agency

The United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government that manages the government's civilian workforce. The agency provides federal human resources policy, oversight and support, and tends to healthcare (FEHB) and life insurance (FEGLI) and retirement benefits for federal government employees, retirees and their dependents.

United States Merit Systems Protection Board

The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) is an independent quasi-judicial agency established in 1979 to protect federal merit systems against partisan political and other prohibited personnel practices and to ensure adequate protection for federal employees against abuses by agency management.



The original legislation allowing federal employees to organize together and protect rights was the Lloyd–La Follette Act in 1912. However this act only allowed for employees to unionize together and petition the government, but gave them no real bargaining power. The Act was amended by both President Kennedy (Executive Order 10988) and President Nixon (Executive Order 11491), but neither executive orders truly fixed the problems with the original act. By the time President Carter took office in 1977, the Lloyd-LaFollete Act was perceived as entirely obsolete and forced the necessity of legislative reform. [1] With the American public wary of the organization of government following Watergate and the OPEC embargo, President Carter's time in office coincided with a period in which bureaucratic organization was open to "reexamination". Carter ran his campaign promising to "strengthen presidential control over federal services", and once in office created the CSRA. Carter intended for the act to create more bureaucratic officials involved with policy making (rather than administration) and that were more closely politically controlled by the presidency. [2] The CSRA arose from a growing wariness of the United States Government by the general American population. Preceding the Act in 1978 was nearly a decade of major blunders committed by the White House. In short, the federal government had "widely over-promised and woefully underperformed". Incidents like the Watergate scandal coupled with the consensus public opinion of the Vietnam War being a complete failure led the push for reform. [3] The CSRA sought to fix common problems across the public sector such as eliminating manipulation of the merit system without inhibiting the entire structure, how to both invest authority in managers while simultaneously protecting employee from said authority, limit unnecessary or excessive spending, and make the federal work force mirror the American people more closely. [4]

The Lloyd–La Follette Act of 1912 began the process of protecting civil servants in the United States from unwarranted or abusive removal by codifying "just cause" standards previously embodied in presidential orders. It defines "just causes" as those that would promote the "efficiency of the service." August 24, 1912, § 6, 37 Stat. 555, 5 U.S.C. § 7511

Executive Order 10988 is a United States presidential executive order issued by President John F. Kennedy on January 17, 1962 that recognized the right of federal employees to collective bargaining. This executive order was a breakthrough for public sector workers, who were not protected under the 1935 Wagner Act.

Drafting process

The CSRA was the first federally passed comprehensive civil service reform since the Pendleton Act of 1883. Leading up to the passing of the CSRA, the federal government grew in both size and complexity, causing the public to question the government’s cost and blame policy failures on the bureaucrats. [5]

Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act 1883 law of the US Congress establishing the United States Civil Service Commission

The Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act is a United States federal law passed by the 47th United States Congress and signed into law by President Chester A. Arthur on January 16, 1883. The act mandates that most positions within the federal government should be awarded on the basis of merit instead of political patronage.

In March, President Jimmy Carter sent a proposal to Congress to bring about civil service reform in order to “bring efficiency and accountability to the Federal Government.” Congress spent 7 months forming and enacting the legislation and in August 1978, Congress approved the plan that restructured federal personnel management. [6]


The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 created rules and procedures for federal civilian employees. There were two parts to the reform; The Reorganization Plan and the Civil Service Reform Act. The Reorganization Plan divided the Civil Service Commission (CSC) into the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). Additionally, the Federal Labor Regulations Authority (FLRA) was created.

A civil service commission is a government agency that is constituted by legislature to regulate the employment and working conditions of civil servants, oversee hiring and promotions, and promote the values of the public service. Its role is roughly analogous to that of the human resources department in corporations. Civil service commissions are often independent from elected politicians.

Responsibilities are as follows:

In addition to the creation of new agencies, a new grade classification for the government’s top managers was created - the Senior Executive Service (SES). These managers were strategically positioned throughout the government and were rewarded via bonuses based on merit. Middle managers were now paid and rewarded based on evaluations and merit only. The act also created processes for firing employees found to be incompetent and provided protection for "whistleblowers" [7]


The CSRA was one of the largest reforms in Federal personnel regulations since the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883 and is one of the Carter Administration's major domestic achievements. However, the long lasting effects and the legacy of the CSRA are widely disputed. Some claim that the CSRA has accomplished virtually nothing. Others claim that the CSRA has accomplished quite a bit. On one side of the argument, it is claimed that the CSRA has not affected unequal hiring methods, has not formed a division of experienced administrators that it was supposed to, and has been ignored by certain agencies. [8] Others claim that the CSRA was a pervasive attempt to reform and restrain a large government bureaucracy in the United States. [9] On the other side of the argument, it is claimed that many provisions in the CSRA have spread globally and that the CSRA has had a serious impact on public administration systems all over the world. [10] It is also claimed that the CSRA has incorporated “long-lasting strategies based on improved responsiveness and competitiveness of federal employees" and that the CSRA has moderately improved employee attitudes in the workplace. [11]

See also


Related Research Articles

The merit system is the process of promoting and hiring government employees based on their ability to perform a job, rather than on their political connections. It is the opposite of the spoils system.

CSRA may refer to:

United States Civil Service Commission

The United States Civil Service Commission was a government agency of the federal government of the United States and was created to select employees of federal government on merit rather than relationships. In 1979, it was dissolved as part of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978; the Office of Personnel Management and the Merit Systems Protection Board are the successor agencies.

The excepted service is the part of the United States federal civil service that is not part of either the competitive service or the Senior Executive Service. It provides streamlined hiring processes to be used under certain circumstances.

Senior Executive Service (United States) position classification in the civil service of the United States federal government

The Senior Executive Service (SES) is a position classification in the civil service of the United States federal government, equivalent to general officer or flag officer ranks in the U.S. Armed Forces. It was created in 1979 when the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 went into effect under President Jimmy Carter.

Federal Labor Relations Authority

The Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) is an independent agency of the United States government that governs labor relations between the federal government and its employees.

United States federal civil service

The United States federal civil service is the civilian workforce of the United States federal government's departments and agencies. The federal civil service was established in 1871. U.S. state and local government entities often have comparable civil service systems that are modeled on the national system, in varying degrees.

National Treasury Employees Union

The National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) is an independent labor union representing 150,000 employees of 31 departments and agencies of the United States government. The union specializes in representation of non-supervisory federal employees in every classification and pay level in civilian agencies.

The Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute is a federal law which establishes collective bargaining rights for most employees of the federal government in the United States. It was established under Title VII of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978.

Oklahoma Office of Personnel Management

The Oklahoma Office of Personnel Management (OPM) was an agency of the government of Oklahoma which was dissolved in 2011. OPM managed the civil service of the state government. OPM previously provided comprehensive human resource services to all state agencies and employees, as well as information for individuals interested in state service careers. OPM, together with the Oklahoma Merit Protection Commission, was responsible for administering and enforcing the State Merit System.

U.S. civil service reform was a major issue in the late 19th century at the national level, and in the early 20th century at the state level. Proponents denounced the distribution of government offices—the "spoils"—by the winners of elections to their supporters as corrupt and inefficient. They demanded nonpartisan scientific methods and credential be used to select civil servants. The five important civil service reforms were the two Tenure of Office Acts of 1820 and 1867, Pendleton Act of 1883, the Hatch Acts and the CSRA of 1978.

Human resource management in public administration concerns human resource management as it applies specifically to the field of public administration. It is considered to be an in-house structure that ensures unbiased treatment, ethical standards, and promotes a value-based system.

Office of Labor-Management Standards

The Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) of the U.S. Department of Labor administers and enforces most provisions of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA). The LMRDA was enacted primarily to ensure basic standards of democracy and fiscal responsibility in labor organizations which represent employees in private industry. Unions representing U.S. Postal Service employees became subject to the LMRDA with the passage of the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970.

The Defense Intelligence Community Whistleblower Program (DICWP) is a sub-mission of the Department of Defense Whistleblower Program. In administering the DICWP, the Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Department of Defense (DoDIG) balances the competing national security and separation of powers interests raised by whistleblowing within the Defense Intelligence Community.The DoDIG provides a safe, authorized conduit for Defense Department whistleblowers to disclose classified information. The Inspector General also has authority to investigate whistleblowing reprisal allegations filed by civilian and military members of the Defense Intelligence Community. It therefore accepts the disclosures and provides source protection for those providing the information. The Department of Defense funds and supervises much of the Republic's intelligence gathering. DoD IG accordingly provides protection to a large number of civilian and military intelligence personnel.

Whistleblower protection in the United States

A whistleblower is a person who exposes any kind of information or activity that is deemed illegal, unethical, or not correct within an organization that is either private or public. The Whistleblower Protection Act was made into federal law in the United States in 1989.

Pay-for-Performance (Federal Government)

Pay-for-Performance is a method of employee motivation meant to improve performance in the United States federal government by offering incentives such as salary increases, bonuses, and benefits. It is a similar concept to Merit Pay for public teachers and it follows basic models from Performance-related Pay in the private sector. According to recent studies, however, there are key differences in how pay-for-performance models influence federal employees in public service roles. James Perry is one scholar who has conducted such studies. His research reveals that public servants tend to be more intrinsically motivated, and thus, are prone to have a negative reaction to monetary incentives. There is still debate, however, on what exactly makes the public sector different.

Kloeckner v. Solis, 568 U.S. 41 (2012), is a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States involving federal employee grievance procedures under the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978. The issue was whether a so-called "mixed case" involving both wrongful termination and discrimination claims should be appealed from the Merit Systems Protection Board to a federal district court or to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

James T. Abbott

James Thomas Abbott is an American attorney and government official who currently serves as a member of the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA). Prior to assuming his current role, he was the Chief Counsel to the FLRA. Before his service with the FLRA, Abbott served as Deputy General Counsel for the United States Congress Office of Compliance from 2004 to 2007. Earlier in his career, he was the Senior Associate District Counsel for Personnel and Ethics at the Defense Contract Management Agency; Chief Counsel at Corpus Christi Army Depot, United States Army Materiel Command; and Senior Labor Counsel at the HQ Depot Systems Command, U.S. Army Materiel Command.


  1. Coleman, Charles (1980). "The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978: Its Meaning and Its Roots". Labor Law Journal. 31 (4): 200–07.
  2. Schultz, David (1998). Politics of Civil Service Reform. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing. p. 159. ISBN   0820433799.
  3. Sundquist, James L. (1979). "Jimmy carter as public administrator: An appraisal at mid-term". Public Administration Review. 39 (1): 3–11. doi:10.2307/3110370. JSTOR   3110370.
  4. Cambell, Alan (1978). "Civil service reform: A new commitment". Public Administration Review. 39 (2): 99–103. doi:10.2307/976281. JSTOR   976281.
  5. Coggburn, Jarrell (2003). Encyclopedia of Public Administration and Public Policy. p. 197.
  6. "Jimmy carter: Civil service reform act of 1978 statement on signing S. 2640 into law". 1978.
  7. Knudsen, Steven; Jakus, Larry; Metz,Maida (1979). "The civil service reform act of 1978". Public Personnel Management.
  8. Times, Adam Clymer, Special To The New York (1982-05-03). "Political Scientists See Little Impact of 1978 Civil Service Law". The New York Times. ISSN   0362-4331 . Retrieved 2015-04-28.
  9. Ingraham, Patricia W. (1984). Legislating Bureaucratic Change: Civil Service Reform Act of 1978. SUNY Press. ISBN   9780873958851 . Retrieved 2015-04-28.
  10. Lah, T. J.; Perry, James L. (2008-06-11). "The Diffusion of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 in OECD Countries: A Tale of Two Paths to Reform". Review of Public Personnel Administration. 28: 282–99. doi:10.1177/0734371X08319950. ISSN   0734-371X.
  11. Lee, Haksoo; Cayer, N. Joseph; Lan, G. Zhiyong (2006). "Changing Federal Government Employee Attitudes Since the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978". Review of Public Personnel Administration. 26 (1): 21–51. doi:10.1177/0734371X05276936. ISSN   0734-371X.