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PR- 008-11
January 7, 2011


Report Calls for End of Oversight by Overburdened State Civil Service Commission While Maintaining Ample Worker Protection

Extensive Rules Hurt Ability to Hire, Promote, Train and Develop Workers

Over 1,000 Job Titles Require Separate Exams That Take an Average of 16 Months to Prepare and Cost New York City More than $16 Million a Year

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg today released the report of the Workforce Reform Task Force, chaired by Martha Hirst, former Commissioner of the Department of Citywide Administrative Services. The report outlines 23 specific steps to improve the civil service system so that City workers can perform their job functions without being overburdened and constrained by rules and narrow classifications. The recommendations focus on three areas for reform: governance, hiring flexibility and organizational excellence. Combined, these three areas show how rules on testing and hiring have not kept pace with current practices in workforce development and limit the City from managing, training and rewarding its employees in the best way.  The report is available on

"We have the best workforce in the world, but the civil service is so antiquated that it prevents them from performing up to their abilities, costs taxpayers millions of dollars in unnecessary expenditures, and prevents us from retaining and promoting our best workers," said Mayor Bloomberg.  "We have identified 23 concrete, achievable reforms that will help modernize the system and strengthen the whole purpose of civil service reform: conducting hiring and promotion based on merit. We'll begin implementing several of them immediately, and I look forward to working with Governor Cuomo, the State Legislature and public employee unions to make the others a reality as soon as possible. I want to thank the members of the Workforce Reform Task Force for their work developing the report and initiatives."

"The Workforce Reform Task Force report includes actionable initiatives to dramatically improve our workforce, and, in turn, the services they provide," said Workforce Reform Task Force Chair Martha Hirst. "The recommendations have tremendous potential to improve day-to-day government operations and help the City achieve its full potential as a modern, first-rate government." 

"Removing the State Civil Service Commission's oversight will relieve the Commission of a heavy burden, reduce a layer of bureaucracy, and allow the City to more easily implement much needed reforms while in no way diminishing the important civil service standards," said Department of Citywide Administrative Services Commissioner Edna Wells Handy. "This report is a roadmap to a system that is less expensive and less complicated while providing more flexibility and more worker discretion."

Governance - Removing Unwieldy Regulation

The City's civil service system is governed by the State Civil Service Commission, in addition to State civil service law, the City's collective bargaining agreements, and City rules and procedures. The Commission is charged with reviewing civil service actions of 100 municipal civil service entities, including 57 counties and over 35 cities, regions, and towns. As a result, the burdens placed on the Commission are substantial, and the size of the New York City's workforce makes its needs unique. As a result, the City's routine applications to the Commission often go unanswered. Since June 2009, the City has sent the State Commission five proposals to improve civil service efficiency.  The Commission has not issued a response to any of the proposals, despite the fact that the City pays the Commission up to $600,000 per year to handle this workload. The report recommends that the Commission's oversight authority over the City be removed.

State law requires that taxpayers spend approximately $4 million year to administer civil service on behalf of over 40,000 employees at the Transit Authority and the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority - an arrangement neither the MTA nor the City wants. Accordingly, the report recommends that NYC Transit and Bridges and Tunnels be empowered to administer their own civil service system.

Hiring Flexibility - Titles and Tests not Suited for Modern Workforce

The civil service system was originally based on the principle that employees should be hired based on merit and not favoritism. Over time, the interpretation of this important principle has led to myriad unnecessary and inflexible rules and restrictions on hiring and an inappropriate reliance on testing. 

Each of the City's 1,000 competitive civil service job titles requires its own exam and it takes an average of 16 months and $98,000 to administer and develop each exam. As a result of the time and expense involved in this process, the City is only able to administer 100 to 120 exams per year. The report recommends that the number of titles in the class that requires competitive examinations be reduced, and the use of education and experience testing for competitive titles be increased.

The City could achieve substantial savings if it were able to purchase exams created by testing companies instead of writing its own exams from scratch. Testing companies have been unwilling to sell their exams to the City because the City, unlike other jurisdictions in the State, is required to publish answer keys.  Instead of continuing this duplicative and inefficient process, the Task Force recommends that State law be changed to eliminate the requirements for answer key publication.

The report also recommends that the maximum period for temporary appointments be extended to three years to address situations such as grant funding and special projects. Currently, State law only allows for temporary appointments from one year to 18 months, depending on the job titles.  This creates problems for City agencies that do not want to administer tests for short-term initiatives. For example, the Health Department recently received federal stimulus grants totaling over $35 million for its Communities Putting Prevention to Work program for public health initiatives, including obesity and tobacco control.  Existing rules for temporary appointments could not address the agency's hiring demands since employees were needed for the entire two-year grant period and current civil service law limits such temporary appointments to up to 18 months.  As a result, the Health Department is paying almost $3 million of the grant award to the Fund for Public Health in New York, a non-profit organization, to administer the grant-including the personnel function-on behalf of the agency.  If the maximum period of temporary appointments were longer, this money could have been used to fund direct services to improve New Yorkers' health, rather than unnecessary administrative overhead.

Organizational Excellence - Managing, Training and Rewarding Employees

Many uniform commanders, Assistant Commissioners and agency chiefs-of-staff, and other City employees with significant responsibility are considered "non-managerial" under the law, despite the fact that they supervise large workforces. Out of approximately 62,000 uniformed employees at the Police, Fire, Correction and Sanitation departments, only 90 uniform employees (0.15% of the uniformed workforce) are classified as managers. The report recommends that State law be amended to redefine the universe of employees who are deemed managers.  Federal law applies broader standards for management and could be used as a model in New York.

The report also recommends that the City systematically assess how effectively agencies empower employees and create a culture of excellence.  The report recommends that the City adopt a program similar to the "Best Places to Work in Federal Government" rankings.  Under that program, the non-profit Partnership for Public Service and American University's Institute for the Study of Public Policy Implementation analyze survey responses from federal employees to rank agencies on overall employee satisfaction.  The federal rankings have been used to create incentives for agencies to focus on workforce issues and provide leaders with a way to measure and improve employee engagement. 

Through its work, the task force learned that the current evaluation systems being used by City agencies are not satisfying the needs of their employees or organizations. The Task Force recommends the redesign of the City's performance evaluation systems to identify and reward high performance at the individual and work unit levels. In addition, employee rewards that are permissible under work rules - such as specialized training, challenging assignments, award ceremonies and public announcements - should be utilized more extensively. The City should also reach agreements with municipal unions to provide a greater range of employee rewards, including promotional opportunities, one-time bonuses and choices in shift assignments.

The report also recommends working with municipal unions to increase the efficiency of the discipline and arbitration processes, including establishing a less burdensome process for discipline, including a broader and better range of disciplinary actions, and establishing an a more appropriate standard of review for disciplinary decisions.

The members of the Workforce Reform Task Force are:

  • Martha Hirst, Chair, former Commissioner, Department of Citywide Administrative Services
  • Alexis Offen, Senior Policy Advisor, Mayor's Office of Operations
  • Douglas Apple, First Deputy Commissioner, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development
  • Jean Brewer, Associate Commissioner, Office of Labor Relations
  • Seth Diamond, Commissioner, Department of Homeless Services
  • Kenneth Godiner, Senior Assistant Director, Office of Management and Budget
  • James G. Hein, Former Deputy Commissioner for Citywide Personnel Service, Department of Citywide Administrative Services
  • Joe Morrisroe, Executive Director of NYC311, Mayor's Office of Operations
  • Mitchell Paluszek, Deputy General Counsel, Department of Citywide Administrative Services
  • Daniel Shacknai, First Deputy Commissioner, Fire Department


Stu Loeser / Jason Post   (212) 788-2958


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Read the report (in PDF)