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US Civil Service Reforms Essay

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Updated: Sep 22nd, 2022

The U.S. has undergone several civil service reforms through its history. From the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act in 1883 that mandated that government positions should be filled according to merit rather than other criteria to lesser State reforms. In recent years, different states, including Georgia, Florida, Arizona, Colorado, and Tennessee, have been reforming their civil service policies. These reforms, in general, are aimed at making it easier to hire and retain government employees based on their merit and job performance.

These reforms also make it easier for government agencies within these states to seek the most competent employees. In a large part, this is achieved by removing protections current employees enjoy, such as seniority, and converting their positions to “at will” status. This status means that an employee can be laid off without having to find a justifiable cause for termination. The exception is illegal termination, such as that based on discrimination on the grounds of sex or religion.

Tennessee saw a major reform of its civil service in 2012, addressing the issues mentioned above. In the previous system, seniority was considered the primary criterion for employment, giving preference to more senior employees rather than ones who are more competent or suitable for the job (Barrett & Greene, 2015). The test given to applicants was described as “antiquated” and not necessarily related to the skills required by the position (Barrett & Greene, 2015). Finally, only the top 5 scorers on the test could be hired, giving preference to the most senior candidates, and thus severely limiting an agency’s hiring options (Barrett & Greene, 2015). State legislators targeted these issues with their proposed reform.

The 2012 Tennessee Excellence, Accuntability and Management (TEAM) Act sought to change that, as well as introduce other improvements to the state’s civil service system. It concerns both hiring and layoff practices, and makes civil employees’ performance easier to evaluate. Specifically, the TEAM Act requires agencies to clearly define the knowledge and skills required for each position (Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions, n. d.).

Furthermore, in case two candidates with equal qualifications are available, preference will be given to veterans (Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions, n. d.). Employees performance is now evaluated through setting specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-sensitive (SMART) goals, a system commonly used in private businesses (Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions, n. d.). Finally, though seniority is considered in cases of layoff, it is secondary to job performance (Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions, n. d.). These changes shift the focus in hiring, layoff, and performance evaluation practices away from seniority and towards merit and performance.

In the state of Arizona, similarly outdated civil service rules caused significant problems, highlighting why the subsequent reforms were necessary. A lack of at-will employment policies led to major complications when trying to lay off employees and an overuse of paid administrative leave within state institutions (Kelley, n. d.). Furthermore, a lack of reliable tools for performance evaluation made it difficult to determine a government employee’s competence and, therefore, decide whether to discipline or fire him or her (Kelley, n. d.). Moreover, the protections afforded to current employees made laying them off difficult even in cases where insufficient performance or disciplinary issues could be proven (Kelley, n. d.). Such issues with the previous system have prompted the state to launch its reform in 2012.


Barrett, K., & Greene, R. (2015). How Tennessee transformed the way it hires and fires people. Governing. Web.

Kelley, M. (n. d.) . Goldwater Institute. Web.

Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions. (n. d.). . Web.

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IvyPanda. "US Civil Service Reforms." September 22, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/us-civil-service-reforms/.


IvyPanda. 2022. "US Civil Service Reforms." September 22, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/us-civil-service-reforms/.


IvyPanda. (2022) 'US Civil Service Reforms'. 22 September.

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