Director's Perspective

Stewardship, OMB M-17-22, and the Enduring Relevance of the Merit System Principles

OMB's directive demonstrates that not all civil service laws are outdated relics.


The merit system principles (MSPs) were codified by the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA) of 1978 in 5 U.S.C. § 2301(b). They serve as the Federal Government’s guidelines for how the workforce should be managed. Earlier this year the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued directive M-17-22, Comprehensive Plan for Reforming the Federal Government and Reducing the Federal Civilian Workforce, calling on agencies to formulate plans "aim[ed at] mak[ing the] government lean, accountable, and more efficient." Although M-17-22 does not expressly reference the MSPs, the directive in essence asks agencies to recommit to several of the key values that underlie them.

Take, for example, the sections "Restructure and Merge Activities" and "Improve Organizational Efficiency and Effectiveness." Here, OMB directs agencies to ensure that their organizational structures are aligned with their core missions and strategic plans; reduce duplication of activities or functions across different parts of their organizations; eliminate redundant levels of management or administrative support; and get rid of unnecessary steps that do not add value. The fifth MSP states that the Federal workforce "should be used efficiently and effectively." As MSPB explained in our 2013 report Managing Public Employees in the Public Interest, how well an agency is meeting the simple command of MSP 5 can be gauged by examining things like the extent to which it eliminates unnecessary functions and positions, makes good use of employees' skills and talents, has a... Continue Reading..

James Read
Director, Office of Policy and Evaluation
Excerpt from the Fall 2017 Issues of Merit Newsletter