Fitness Bar for Public Servants

The public perception today is that government servants are unresponsive to the needs and concerns of citizens and the system does not address this problem because the mechanisms to ensure accountability, integrity and efficiency of public servants do not appear to be adequate. The common perception is that initiation of disciplinary action against incompetent and erring government servants is more an exception than the rule. This is supported by a plethora of anecdotal evidence.

Data obtained from the UPSC and the CVC clearly bring out that there are very few cases where disciplinary proceedings result in imposition of substantial penalties. The life-long job security provided to a government servant further leads to such a distorted incentive structure because it is a fact that under the present system, very rarely is a government servant punished or removed for poor performance. As a result, an element of complacency and inertia has got internalized in the civil services. In fact, it has been noted that this trend not only manifests itself in terms of indifference to and disregard of citizens’ complaints and concerns but also in the form of indiscipline and insubordination.

It has been recommended to major revamp of the present system of disciplinary proceedings against government employees to ensure greater accountability and to minimize, if not eliminate, misconduct and indiscipline. In addition, there is also need to find a systemic solution to the issue of complacency that stems from the lifelong job security coupled with lack of penal consequences for non performance or inadequate performance.

While the performance of government organizations and their sub-units are periodically subjected to in-depth reviews, seldom are efforts made to link organizational performance to the performance of an individual civil servant. In fact, at present, annual confidential records of civil servants are the only mechanism to assess the performance of a government servant and these records are used to evaluate the fitness of a civil servant usually at the time of promotion.

There is need to have a comprehensive in-depth assessment at important milestones in an officer’s career. These assessments, should be carried out on completion of 14 and 20 years of service.

  • The first review at 14 years would primarily serve the purpose of apprising the public servant about his/her strengths and shortcomings for his/her future advancement. This should also be used for assessing his/her training needs.
  • The second review at 20 years would mainly serve to assess the fitness of the officer for his/her further continuance in government service. These performance evaluations could be conducted by committees constituted for this purpose.
  • So far as the second review is concerned, as this would involve a more intensive assessment about a public servant’s fitness to continue in service, this may be entrusted to an empowered committee comprising both government officers as well as external experts.
  • The second review would involve a very careful scrutiny and analysis of the officer’s general reputation, performance and his/her potential to hold leadership positions involving higher responsibilities in government. To the extent possible, feedback from citizens, wherever available, should be used as an input in this exercise.
  • A personal interview with the officer should normally be a part of this process. The detailed modalities of this assessment would need to be worked out by government.

The services of public servants who are found to be unfit after the second review at 20 years, should be discontinued. A provision regarding this should be made in the proposed Civil Services Law. Besides, for new appointments it should be expressly provided that the period of employment shall be for 20 years only. Further continuance in government service would depend upon the outcome of the intensive performance reviews. These reviews combined with the changes suggested in the performance management system, disciplinary proceedings and the reforms in the recruitment and training of civil servants would make the entire system much more proactive, responsive and accountable. The above proposals are not as radical as they may prima facie appear. Element s of such a system exist in the Armed Forces, for both officers and other ranks. Thus an officer who does not get promotion from the rank of Colonel to Brigadier, retires at the age of 54, one who does not get promoted from the rank of Brigadier to Major General retires at 56 and so on. Section 56(j) of the Fundamental Rules (FR) also provides for a fitness bar in respect of civilian government employees. The provision has however been used only occasionally in the past although it has withstood judicial scrutiny. The present proposal seeks to broad base and institutionalize such a mechanism for all government employees. The Sixth Central Pay Commission has recommended that employees seeking VRS should be eligible for pension equal to 50% of the average emoluments/last pay drawn on completion of 20 years of qualifying service thus making the VRS more attractive. Government has accepted this recommendation and the liberal retirement scheme dovetails well with the mechanism suggested by the Commission. The system of intensive reviews coupled with liberalized pension and VRS benefits can be integrated into the government’s performance management system.