State Budget Opens Door to More Patronage in Civil Service

July 15, 2015

The budget signed by Gov. Walker on Sunday contains two changes that make Wisconsin’s civil service less independent and more susceptible to patronage.

The changes place the state Department of Administration, long considered the right arm of the governor, in charge of what used to be an independent process for state job recruitment, hiring, testing, promotion, and pay.

Until now, the state’s Office of State Employment Relations, which oversees state employment, was attached to the Department of Administration (DOA) for administrative support, but it functioned independently. Walker’s budget converts it to a new Division of Personnel within DOA. The new division’s administrator will be appointed by the DOA secretary, who takes his orders from the governor.

In addition, the Division of Merit Recruitment and Selection, which administers the civil service exam, will become a bureau in DOA’s new Division of Personnel, and the bureau chief will also be appointed by the DOA secretary, rather than be selected through a competitive civil service exam.

The state budget changes eliminate a process that independently chose and retained personnel who are free from politics to oversee state hiring, in favor of allowing the governor, who is elected every four years, to replace them with political appointees.

The changes in the state budget also return the management of the civil service process to where it was 40 years ago. In 1977, the oversight and management of the state’s civil service were taken from DOA and placed in a newly created Department of Employment Relations because of concerns over patronage and cronyism in state hiring by both Republican and Democratic policymakers.

However, since 1977 there have been periodic changes to the state’s hiring system, through reorganizations and so-called efficiency initiatives, which have jerked back the civil service system closer to DOA control. For instance, the Department of Employment Relations was eliminated in 2003, supposedly as a cost-saving measure, and the Office of State Employment Relations was created.

Now we’re all the way back to the future.