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Wisconsin May Change Its 110-year-old Civil Service System

Two Republican legislators insist Wisconsin's civil service system bogs down hiring and firing, sometimes adding months to the process. The state adopted it in 1905 to minimize the political favoritism that had crept into the system. Democrats argue that the new plan would re-open the door to corruption and cronyism.

One change Sen. Roger Roth and Rep. Jim Steineke want to make is to eliminate the civil service exam. Only applicants who've scored high have been invited to interview for the job. The GOP lawmakers say sometimes unqualified people get through, so the two want applicants to submit a resume instead.

“It’s (civil service exam) an archaic practice; nobody does this anymore. So as we try to realign our hiring practices to the best practices we see in private business, in 2015, this is a thing of the past. So we want to take this to a resume-base, where you will hand in a resume just like you do anywhere else in private business,” Roth says.

Roth and Steineke also want to shorten the timeline for both hiring and dismissing workers, instituting a hiring goal of 60 days and shortening the appeals process for terminations to about a half-year.

Under the proposal, one state agency would serve as the clearinghouse for all job applicants, the state would create a uniform performance evaluation for workers, and Wisconsin would spell-out the specific reasons for why the state could fire an employee. Steineke says workers could not be dismissed for their political views. As for how the state would guard against managers making hiring decisions based on political views, he says neither system can be perfect.

"I don't think that the current system is an ultimate protection against that either. I think that can still happen, under the current system," Steineke says.

Democrats Rep. Peter Barca and Sen. Jennifer Shilling call the proposal another GOP attack on hard-working state employees and predict it would re-invite corruption and cronyism.

Steineke and Roth insist Wisconsin needs to make its employment system more efficient, especially when 40 percent of its workforce will be eligible to retire in 10 years. Gov. Walker has expressed his support for the proposed changes. They will formally be introduced next week.

Wisconsin employs 30,000 workers in its civil service system.