MERIT SYSTEM PRINCIPLE OF THE MONTH
"Employees should be provided effective education and training in cases in which such education and training would result in better organizational and individual performance."
What is the intent behind the seventh Merit System Principle?
The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (Reform Act) which codified the nine Merit System Principles, including this training imperative, was enacted to create “a civil service that is worthy of the public and its confidence: One in which hiring, promotion, and pay are truly based on merit and one in which those who cannot or will not perform their jobs well will not perform at all for the Federal Government.” Remarks of Senator Abraham A. Ribicoff, II House Committee on Post Office and Civil Service, 95th Cong. 1st Sess., Legislative History of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 at 1606 (1979). In furtherance of the accountability inherent in this vision, this training imperative is designed to ensure that employees receive the training they need to perform their jobs; that training plans are integrated into organizations’ overall strategic plans; and that funds are available to accomplish necessary training. As jobs evolve, agencies should invest in the training necessary to assure their employees possess the skills to adapt and excel—even, and perhaps especially, in hard budgetary times. By including training as a Merit System Principle, Congress sought to better assure that employees, who are to be held more strictly accountable for their performance than in the past, are properly trained to achieve successful performance.
What is the Merit Systems Protection Board’s (MSPB) adjudicatory role in training matters?
When adjudicating an employee’s removal or demotion for performance deficiencies, the Board may be called upon to determine a claim that the action violated this Merit System Principle.
Are there decisions from the MSPB relating to the seventh Merit System Principle?
The Board set forth the analytical framework for determining whether an agency has violated the seventh Merit System Principle in Wright v. FAA, 40 MSPR 355, 360-62 (1989), a decision involving a developmental air traffic controller in an established “up or out” training course:
A literal reading of 5 USC 2301(b)(7) suggests that “effective training” is designed to advance two interests: the overall performance of the organization and the employee’s individual performance. While an agency’s training program should ideally promote both interests to the maximum extent, it would be a rare case in which an employee could not show that additional or different training might have led to some improvement in her performance, even though at a prohibited cost to the agency, considering the benefit derived. To allow employees to determine the extent and nature of the training to which they are entitled would ignore the paramount interest of agencies in setting goals and priorities and in allocating funds accordingly. Yet this is essentially what the AJ did in this case, by reversing the appellant’s removal based on his finding that the agency failed to provide her with training that “would have helped [her] to improve her performance.” In doing so, he failed to consider whether providing appellant with such training would have also served the agency’s interest in promoting better organizational performance.
We hold that, in order to establish a 2301(b)(7) violation, an employee must show that she did not receive at least the minimum training reasonably calculated to give her the skills and knowledge required to do the job; that additional or different training would have provided those skills; and that such training could have been provided in a cost-effective manner in light of the agency’s mission and its need to apportion limited resources among its numerous programs and objectives. Agencies must have the freedom to establish their priorities within the confines of budgetary restrictions, and the Board must give maximum deference to such managerial decisions. Thus the Board will find a violation of 2301(b)(7) only when an appellant can show that, with respect to her training, the agency’s action amounted to an abuse of discretion.
Subsequent Board decisions have referenced Wright and this abuse of discretion standard, though Wright itself was reversed because of the Board’s misapplication of the burdens of proof to the specific facts in that case. 900 F.2d 1541.
Has MSPB studied the issue of training?
Pursuant to 5 USC 1204(a)(3), MSPB conducts studies relating to the civil service and reports to the President and Congress as to whether the public interest in a civil service free of prohibited personnel practices is being adequately protected. Most recently, in February 2011, MSPB issued a report titled: Making the Right Connections: Targeting the Best Competencies for Training. The report discusses the Board’s strategic view of training and its search to identify Government-wide patterns to inform agency decisions about training. By identifying the full range of highly trainable, moderately trainable, and less trainable competencies, the study seeks to encourage agencies to use their training resources in maximally efficient manners.
Has the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued any guidance to help agencies comply with the seventh Merit System Principle?
The OPM maintains a Training and Development Policy website replete with training information and resources. It contains guidance, fact sheets, and relevant regulations.