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Merit System Principle of the Month



“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.”

What is the intent behind the first Merit System Principle?

The first clause, concerning recruitment, sets forth the vision of a federal workforce that is representative of the very people who fund the government through their tax dollars and whom the government exists to serve.  The second clause, concerning selection and promotion, represents the core value of a merit-based employment model.  Up until the latter part of the 19th century, most executive branch employees obtained their jobs through political connections.  The Pendleton Act of 1883 replaced this patronage system with a merit system under which anyone, regardless of political affiliation, may receive a civil service appointment so long as he or she is the best-qualified applicant based on objective criteria.  The final clause, concerning equal opportunity, echoes the purpose behind Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and related laws barring discrimination in employment.

Are there any recent decisions from the Merit Systems Protection Board addressing the first Merit System Principle?

The MSPB recently imposed discipline on two agency officials who gave an unauthorized preference to a job applicant.  In so doing the MSPB emphasized its obligation to “faithfully uphold the Merit System Principles,” and “to [put] agencies subject to the [CSRA] on notice that selections for employment must be made in accordance with law and must not be the result of personal or political favoritism.”  Special Counsel v. Lee, 2010 MSPB 89, ¶ 35.  To take another example bearing on the first Merit System Principle, the MSPB recently found that an individual was entitled to a hearing on his claim that the qualification standards used to exclude him from consideration for a federal job were not rationally related to performance in the job.  Sauser v. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2010 MSPB 50.

Has the Office of Personnel Management issued any guidance to help agency HR offices comply with the first Merit System Principle?

The Office of Personnel Management has issued detailed rules governing hiring that are designed to ensure fair and open competition, as well as assessment and selection based strictly on merit.  5 C.F.R. Parts 300A, 330, 332.

Has the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued any guidance to help agency HR offices comply with the first Merit System Principle?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has published formal guidance, known as Management Directive 715, to assist agencies in their efforts to promote a work force that is representative of all segments of society.