Civil Service Reform Research

Ensuring a High-Performing Public Workforce for a Government that Works

Despite the sheer number of government agencies and the amount of spending, public services in Puerto Rico fall short of what the people deserve. Developing and nurturing a high-performing government workforce is vital to Puerto Rico’s future.

To equip the government of Puerto Rico with the right people who have the right knowledge, skillset, and motivation to improve our civil service, sound human resource management systems and processes must be in place to achieve long-lasting transformational change.

In May 2019, the government submitted a Uniform Classification and Compensation Plan to establish a uniform role and pay structure for its employees, as mandated under Act 8-2017, the “Government of Puerto Rico Human Resources Administration and Transformation Act,” known locally as the Sole Employer Act (Empleador Unico).

Although a worthy effort to ensure consistency and standardization across government agencies, it falls short in addressing the Puerto Rico Government’s perennial structural problems in managing the civil service. One major flaw of Act 8 was the underlying assumption that centralizing human resource management would lead to a transformation of the civil service.

The Oversight Board’s Research and Policy Department developed a series of reports to understand the current state of human resource management in the government and to help guide the discussion about civil service reform in Puerto Rico.

On the first report, the Research and Policy Department conducted a thorough examination of the Puerto Rico Government’s existing human resources policies, which included the evaluation of the policy proposed by Act 8. The research analyzed detailed information about government employees, including salary, years of service, education, union status, age, and gender.

That research led to two main conclusions:

  • First, the existing regulatory framework at the Commonwealth falls short in scope, focusing on centralizing certain human resource management components rather than adopting a broader strategic human capital management mandate.
  • Second, the employee analysis reflected a dislocation of the civil service in Puerto Rico, triggered by demographic trends, a growing skills gap, and what appears to be an excessive reliance on appointed trust employees rather than career public service employees for critical agency functions. Agencies are relying more on independent contractors and trust employees with a higher salary because the government failed to appropriately train – or replace – those career employees who fail to meet performance standards

The weakened state of the government’s workforce and its organizational structures is a serious concern to everyone in Puerto Rico, especially when considering its recent performance in managing emergencies such as the earthquakes and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Oversight Board recommends an overhaul of the legal and regulatory framework around human resources management and a transformation of the civil service. Only by implementing real reform can we change ineffective practices that prevent Puerto Rico’s government from fulfilling the most fundamental and emerging needs of the residents of Puerto Rico.

The Oversight Board’s Research Department published two reports to help define those necessary reforms:
“Designing an Effective Civil Service Reform in Puerto Rico”

On “Designing an Effective Civil Service Reform in Puerto Rico”, the Research Department outlined a human resource management framework to enable true transformation and the necessary steps to jumpstart reform efforts. The central personnel management agency (OATRH) would develop a governmentwide comprehensive human capital plan, using data and analysis to address specific areas, like talent management, performance, and evaluation. To address specific areas, like talent management, performance, and evaluation. This plan could then provide guidance and oversight to HR decisions at the agency level.

"Civil Service in Puerto Rico – Statistical Analysis”

Civil Service in Puerto Rico – Statistical Analysis”, analyzes the characteristics of government employees and concludes that several key statistics reflect a dislocation of the civil service in Puerto Rico triggered by demographic trends and a growing skills gap. The weakened state of the capacity of the government’s workforce and its organizational structures should be a cause for concern about how the government can respond to the challenge of delivering effective, efficient public services in an environment of technological transformation and increasing public expectations.

Latest essay: 
Essay: Towards A Stronger Civil Service – Creating A Culture Of Accountability In Public Sector Performance

Government officials have continued to focus mainly on salary increases to reform civil service and bolster improvements in the government’s capacity to address 21st century challenges and needs.

However, although monetary compensation and financial incentives are often considered key drivers behind individual performance, new research clearly shows that too much emphasis and focus is centered on compensation, when in fact most effective incentive systems do not involve financial incentives.

On this new policy essay, the Fiscal Oversight and Management Board’s Research and Policy Department looks at theories about employee motivation and public sector performance and identifies numerous nonmonetary mechanisms that can help reinforce strong government performance.

The authors also analyze the current legal framework for performance appraisals of public employees in Puerto Rico. The research group found that current legal norms related to the evaluation of public employees’ performance are scattered among multiple laws, regulations, personnel manuals, performance evaluation regulations, collective bargaining agreements, and contractual letters between bona fide organizations and government entities. Finally, the group looks at challenges when implementing appraisal systems together with collective bargaining agreements.

To energize and improve the public sector workforce, foster job engagement and commitment, uphold the merit principle, and create an amenable, high-performing work environment, the Commonwealth would need to develop a performance management and appraisal system across all government agencies. Implementing a uniform compensation plan by itself would unlikely lead to transformative change in the quality and efficiency of public service delivery.

Through a well-designed and carefully executed performance appraisal, as well as other strategic human resources management practices, the government can boost job satisfaction and bolster improvements in the government’s capacity to address 21st century challenges.  

Civil Service Reform - Employee Profile

To better understand the current characteristics of the civil service in Puerto Rico, the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico requested detailed information about government employees from the Office of the Administration and Transformation of Human Resources (OATRH), the government’s central personnel management agency.

The employee data was collected in the fiscal year 2019 and includes details like salary, age, and education of employees at 58 government agencies. The OATRH sample excluded rank positions (i.e., police, firemen), school-level positions (i.e. teachers, lunchroom staff), and public health employees at hospitals (i.e. doctors, nurses). Click below for more information about the data. 

The new administration must pursue comprehensively reform of its civil service. Ultimately, an efficient and prepared workforce for the government will not only result in better services for the citizens of Puerto Rico, but also in a better place to work for public employees.