OP-ED: Modernizing the Civil Service Commission

State Sen. Mike Folmer
48th District
Senator Mike Folmer, R-48th District, takes  on the Senate floor during Swearing-in Day at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The Senate State Government Committee, which I chair, has oversight over a number of state agencies, including the Pennsylvania Civil Service Commission. I was pleased to help guide the appointment of a new commissioner through the Senate confirmation process and hope new Commissioner Teresa Osborne will be a change agent to help advance efforts to modernize the commission.

The Civil Service Commission has been responsible for administering Pennsylvania’s merit hiring system for 37 state agencies employing nearly 57,000 civil service employees. Its mission is to promote, recruit and maintain a qualified professional workforce for state and local governments based solely upon job-seekers’ merit, abilities and qualifications to perform designated jobs.

The key to merit employment is competition: providing each qualified job applicant a fair, open and transparent opportunity to compete for jobs. Civil service tests have traditionally been used to measure knowledge, skills and abilities necessary to successfully perform the duties of particular jobs or groups of related jobs.

The Civil Service Commission has also been responsible for ensuring veterans’ preference. Job seekers who pass civil service exams receive additional benefits in recognition of their military service.

Three years ago, I helped initiate efforts to modernize the Civil Service Commission. We passed legislation to allow civil service applicants to be notified of job openings or tests by email, expand the “Rule of Three” to create stronger pools of candidates to fill positions, and bring “vacancy-based hiring” to the Civil Service Commission by allowing the posting of actual job vacancies rather than general lists of job classifications.

More:York County CYF, other human services agencies move to merit-based hiring

Other changes enacted into law prevented Civil Service Commissioners from being politically active or working for another government entity, established a uniform method to apply for both civil service and non-civil service positions, and allowed appointing agencies to select the type of exams used to generate lists of candidates for positions.

Last session, I proposed additional modernization efforts to better meet customers' needs, i.e., those seeking Commonwealth employment — especially veterans — and government agencies looking for new employees. These changes were unanimously passed by both chambers of the General Assembly and signed into law as Act 71, and will become effective March 28.

Under these new provisions, hiring responsibilities will be moved from the Civil Service Commission to the Governor’s Office of Administration, including: merit-based hiring, civil service applications, certifications, examinations and promotions.

Although hiring is being moved to the Office of Administration, merit-based hiring will not be affected as agencies will continue to hire people based upon their qualifications. The new structure will also retain the Civil Service Commission’s jurisdiction over appeals from employment decisions and the commission’s authority to conduct hearings and render determinations, exempt positions from civil service, and audit commonwealth compliance with the Civil Service Act — the latter to provide checks and balances relating to the transfer of merit-based hiring to the Office of Administration.

Most importantly, there will be no changes to veterans’ preference requirements as this is a separate law (the Military Code).

These innovations were not new and had been offered during previous sessions of the General Assembly. I was pleased to finally be able to bring them to a successful finish.

These changes are also consistent with the Office of Administration’s recent successful consolidation of human resources and information technology services of government agencies.

I’m proud to have played a role in these reforms and I enjoyed working with the interested parties who gave valuable input.  I look forward to continuing to work with these entities and the Civil Service Commission in the months and years ahead.

— State Sen. Mike Folmer represents the 48th Senate District in the Pennsylvania State Legislature.