Federal managers sometimes put agency HR staff in difficult positions regarding personnel decisions that may implicate prohibited personnel practices, MSPB said in a recent newsletter.
“As advisors to managers and those who process personnel actions, human resources staff are responsible for educating their customers on the PPPs and alerting them when their conduct approaches or crosses the line between an action permitted within managerial discretion and a PPP,” it said.
For example, it is a prohibited practice to deliberately seek to improve the chances of any specific individual to be selected for employment unless that advantage is expressly authorized by a law, rule, or regulation. However, MSPB noted that a report it recently issued showed that HR officials say that it is common for managers to have someone in mind for a vacancy in advance, which borders on prohibited pre-selection.
MSPB noted that in the study, three-fourths of HR officials said their supervisor would support them in their refusal to commit a PPP. However, a fifth also believed that their supervisor would consider it bad “customer service” to report that one of their customers—that is, a manager—had committed a PPP.
“One possible reason for such beliefs is that some HR supervisors and managers have encouraged or directed HR staff to improve service to managers at the possible expense of upholding the merit system principles,” MSPB said. But it said the true customer of HR staff is the public, whose interests the PPP and merit principles are designed to protect.
“HR supervisors and managers have a responsibility greater, and more demanding, than merely pleasing managers and acceding to their requests… We strongly encourage HR managers to send that message to the leaders they serve and support, as well as the staff they lead,” MSPB said.