Skip to main content

Justice, Fairness, Inclusion, and Performance.


No Time To Wait: Building a Public Service for the 21st Century

The Samuel Freeman Charitable Trust sponsored this National Academy of Public Administration (Academy) study to determine how the federal government's human capital challenges can best be addressed. The Academy formed a five-member Panel of Fellows with expertise in human capital management to conduct the study and produce a White Paper.

In 2017, we released No Time to Wait, the first of our white papers on the future of the federal public service. The Panel argued that the government’s workforce strategy needs to build on three elements: putting mission first, driving the principles of the merit system always, and ensuring accountability for both. In the Panel’s new white paper No Time to Wait, Part 2, the Panel concludes that there is even less time to wait. We need to act today, quickly and creatively, to build the government workforce we will need in the years to come.

Click the button below to view the Part 1 White Paper.

Part 1 White Paper

Click the button below to view the Part 2 White Paper.

Part 2 White Paper


Part 1 Recommendations

The federal government faces profound problems in making government work for the American people in large part because its human capital system is fundamentally broken. The Panel determined that there is a genuine urgency in the need to address these human capital challenges and recommended that the federal government establish a new human capital system–grounded in mission first, principles always, and accountability for both–that provides agencies with the flexibility to effectively manage their missions.

Specifically, the Panel's recommended system would:

  • Provide individual agencies the flexibility to create human capital systems that meet the needs of their missions;
  • Uphold the core principles on which a civil service ultimately depends;
  • and Establish a governance and accountability structure that balances flexibility and core principles while using collaboration and data analytics to redefine accountability and to accelerate the system's ability to adapt to the future.

Part 2 builds on the framework of Part 1 with a more-detailed plan of action to transform the public service:

  • Build flexibility in the pursuit of mission.
  • Replace the over-defined job specifications of the current system with a competency-based, talent-management model.
  • Reinforce the pursuit of merit-system principles.
  • Lead from the center.
  • Transform the federal government’s human capital backbone.

Supplemental Material on Civil Service Reform

Implications of the Future of Work (2018)
Prepared by McKinsey&Company and presented at the No Time to Wait, Part 2 launch event by Bryan Hancock, Partner and Global Talent Management Lead

As automation changes the world of work, governments, businesses, and members of the workforce can take action and adapt.

Symposium on the Federal Workforce for the 21st Century (2018)

On September 12, 2018, the Office of Management and Budget, together with The MITRE Corporation, convened more than 150 experts and leaders from across the country for a full-day symposium on strategies for improving the federal workforce in support of the President’s Management Agenda (PMA) on modernizing the federal government. This report is intended to provide perspective on the key takeaways from the discussions of that day; identify the challenges and opportunities that emerged from those discussions; and provide a set of recommended practices and actions for the government to consider, aligned with the intent and vision of the workforce strategies in the PMA.

Recommendations from Renewing America's Civil Service (2018)
Partnership for Public Service and The Volcker Alliance

The Partnership for Public Service and the Volcker Alliance have joined in an initiative called Renewing America’s Civil Service to identify specific policy, regulatory and statutory opportunities to improve how the federal government recruits, develops and manages its workforce. The joint efforts have resulted in a set of proposals that are consistent with the long-established merit system principles, which reflect the core values of merit-based personnel decisions, non-discrimination, fair and equitable treatment and due process.

Preparing Tomorrow’s Public Service: What the Next Generation Needs (2018)
Volcker Alliance

Government agencies at all levels face management challenges of immense scale and complexity. In the decades ahead, these challenges will continue to grow as the nation confronts a wave of retiring career government professionals. Building and maintaining a highly capable public service that stands ready and able to effectively carry out public policies at all levels of government has never been more critical. Toward that end, the Volcker Alliance undertook this study to explore the skills and competencies most needed to prepare the next generation of great public servants.

SES Joint Policy Agenda (2018)
Partnership for Public Service, Volcker Alliance, and Senior Executives Association

The Partnership for Public Service, the Volcker Alliance and Senior Executives Association have worked to identify solutions to strengthen the federal civil service, including leadership levels. The changes they propose fall into three primary areas: setting executives up for success, improving senior-level talent management and strengthening the link between political and career leadership.

Building a 21st Century Senior Executive Service (2017)
National Academy of Public Administration

Building a 21st Century SES is a collection of perspectives on the SES from 24 of the nation’s most respected public sector leaders. The book was edited by Dr. Ronald Sanders, Academy Fellow, with Dr. Elaine Brenner and Frederick Richardson. The book brings together the practical perspectives of leaders with substantial experience as (or with) members of the SES to offer their perspective on such fundamental issues as the proper institutional role of the SES and the most critical leadership qualities for the 21st century, as well as how to develop the next generation of senior government leaders and revitalize the SES for decades to come.

Seven Drivers Transforming Government (2017)
IBM Center for The Business of Government

The IBM Center for The Business of Government, based on research and perspectives shared by current and former government leaders, released a special report that identifies the seven drivers for transforming government in the years to come.

Building the Enterprise: A New Civil Service Framework (2014)
Partnership for Public Service and Booz Allen Hamilton

In the report, the Partnership calls for major reforms to the federal government’s decades-old civil service system and lays out a plan to modernize areas that include the outdated pay and hiring policies. Recommendations include creating a unified civil service that operates under a set of core principles; establishing a simplified, streamlined job classification system; adopting an occupation-specific, market-sensitive system for compensation; improving performance management by making reviews consequential; changing the hiring process by expanding the use of flexibilities; ensuring greater accountability and speedier justice for poor performance or misconduct; and creating a single, four-tier executive service system that better prepares civil servants for high-level agency and enterprise leadership positions.

Urgent Business for America: Revitalizing the Federal Government for the 21st Century (2003)
National Commission on the Public Service

The Commission, made up of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, recommend changes to bring the government into the 21st century. Disciplined policy direction, operational flexibility, and clear and high performance standards are the guiding objectives for the Commission’s proposals. The Commission calls for sweeping changes in organizational structure and personnel incentives and practices.

Taking Charge of Federal Personnel (2001)
Heritage Foundation

Robert Moffit, a former senior official with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Personnel Management during the Reagan administration, with Donald Devine and George Nesterczuk, report on what it takes to reform how the federal government manages its talent.

Rethinking Civil Service Reform (1999)
World Bank

Civil service reform is an increasingly important part of the World Bank's public sector portfolio. Yet such reform often does not generate sustained improvements in government performance. Rethinking is needed to lead to broader interventions better tailored to country conditions and demand.

Civil Service Reform and the World Bank (1990)
World Bank

The emphasis placed by the World Bank on the major overhaul of developing country economies has accentuated the importance of adequate public sector administrative capacity, especially within the central core of government, that is, the civil service. This paper surveys World Bank experience in civil service reform, and begins to assess the progress made.

Leadership for America: Rebuilding the Public Service (1989)
National Commission on the Public Service

This report details the “quiet crisis” in government – too many of the best of the nation’s senior executives are ready to leave government, and not enough of its most talented young people are willing to join. The Commission calls for a renewed sense of commitment by all Americans to the highest traditions of the public service.

Civil Service Reform: Development of 1978 Civil Service Reform Proposals (1988)
U.S. Government Accountability Office

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO presented a transcript of a March 31, 1988, seminar entitled "Civil Service Reform Act: A Tenth Anniversary Retrospective," held jointly by GAO and the Senate Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Federal Services, Post Office and Civil Service. The seminar examined the early thought that went into the reform of the Civil Service in order to help the Committee evaluate where the Civil Service Reform Act succeeded and determine whether Congress needed to make further reforms. Various individuals involved in Civil Service reform, including the first director of the Office of Personnel Management, and former members of various task forces, provided their views on the development of the 1977 reform project and task force proposals.

Civil Service Reform and Government Reorganization (1978)
Heritage Foundation

This article provides background on President Carter’s plan for a comprehensive reform of the federal civil service, the major provisions of the Civil Service Reform Act, and provides a comparison of S.2640 and H.R.11280 by Title.

Study Fellows