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O’Keefe Talks About the Need for Civil Service System Reform in Washington Post Article

June 22, 2024

The Washington Post

Sean O'Keefe

Sean O'Keefe

We have run federal agencies. Here’s what the civil service needs,” co-authored by University Professor Sean O'Keefe, was published in the Washington Post. Following is an excerpt:

Our experience has shown us that career civil servants are a priceless resource who must be preserved and protected from partisan political influence. Their ability to “speak truth to power” (including to officials like us) without fear of losing their jobs was and is critical—so using political ideology as a litmus test in their appointment or retention, no matter how well-intentioned that might be, presents a dangerous risk to our national security.

However, these employees must also be held accountable for doing their jobs well. As a practical matter, the few bad actors among them are overprotected under the existing system. It is just too hard to ensure that they can be terminated when they fail to meet reasonable standards of performance or conduct — for example, for refusing a direct, lawful order.

Thus, we think the current civil service system is badly in need of reform. But the blueprints offered by both left and right are problematic. One side is firmly rooted in a status quo that (inadvertently or otherwise) impedes accountability, and the other could end up politicizing the very civil servants who should be politically neutral.

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