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Merit System Principle 1: Recruitment, Selection and Advancement

“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 decisions from the Merit Systems Protection Board addressing the first Merit System Principle?
The MSPB most 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, 114 M.S.P.R. 57, ¶ 35 (2010).  To take another example bearing on the first Merit System Principle, the MSPB has 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, 113 M.S.P.R. 403 (2010).

Has the MSPB studied the issue of recruitment, selection and advancement?
In its studies function, the MSPB frequently analyzes workforce data and Federal employee perceptions and has issued numerous reports on recruitment, selection and advancement. Results from the 2010 Merit Principles Survey (published in the 2013 report, Managing Public Employees in the Public Interest) indicated that Federal employees perceive their agencies to be relatively successful at recruiting a diverse pool of applicants for job vacancies; however, they have less confidence in their agencies’ effectiveness in selecting the best-qualified candidates.

Effective recruitment requires understanding what competencies are required, describing them accurately in a vacancy announcement, and knowing where to reach out to find a qualified and diverse applicant pool. A variety of MSPB reports have addressed the topic of Federal government recruitment strategies. The Impact of Recruitment Strategy on Fair and Open Competition for Federal Jobs (2015), Attracting the Next Generation: A Look at Federal Entry-Level New Hires (2008), In Search of Highly Skilled Workers: A Study on the Hiring of Upper Level Employees from Outside the Federal Government (2008), Managing Federal Recruitment: Issues, Insights and Illustrations (2004), and Help Wanted: A Review of Federal Vacancy Announcements (2003) provided recommendations for improving recruitment and hiring of Federal employees at various grade levels.

Another critical step of the hiring process is to be able to identify which of the applicants are qualified. Agencies need to invest appropriate resources into developing and implementing an effective assessment process. The MSPB has examined current practices and made recommendations for improvements through reports such as Reforming Federal Hiring: Beyond Faster and Cheaper (2006) and Assessing Federal Job Seekers in a Delegated Examining Environment (2001).

A variety of reports have focused more specifically on individual assessment techniques that can facilitate merit-based selection, when used properly. These include: Evaluating Job Applicants: The Role of Training and Experience in Hiring (2014), Identifying Talent Through Technology: Automated Hiring Systems in Federal Agencies (2004), The Federal Selection Interview: Unrealized Potential (2003), Job Simulations: Trying Out for a Federal Job (2009), and Reference Checking in Federal Hiring: Making the Call (2005).

Another essential, though sometimes overlooked, final step of the hiring process involves the assessment of the new employee before the end of the probationary period. This topic was explored in the reports, The Probationary Period: A Critical Assessment Opportunity (2005) and Navigating the Probationary Period After Van Wersch and McCormick (2007).

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.