Rewarding the Worthy, Removing the Worthless

by Farrell Quinlan

Have you ever been confronted, confounded and stymied by a state bureaucrat who refuses to do his or her job?

Every small business owner has his or her story (or stories) about the government employee or agency regulator who has this attitude that screams, “I’m on my seventh governor—they come and go and like with them, I can just wait you out.”

A significant chunk of small business owners’ frustrations with the bureaucracy can properly be placed on miserable individuals rather than on foolish or short-sided rules. Often it’s the entrenched middle managers in state employ who use and abuse their discretion within a regulatory environment to give government a bad name. Sometimes arrogance is to blame. Other times it’s incompetence. Mostly, both are actively in play.

There’s a reason government isn’t run like a business. It just isn’t set up that way.

But is there really nothing to be done to improve the situation?

Happily, there is plenty that can be done to make state government more accountable, more responsive and even a better place to work that rewards high performance.

Gov. Jan Brewer and pair of lawmakers named Justin are spearheading legislation to overhaul our state government’s personnel system. House Bill 2571 seeks to:

  • Consolidate multiple personnel systems;
  • Transition the state to an at-will workforce;
  • Improve the management of the state workforce;
  • Restructure the grievance and appeal system; and,
  • Update human resources practices.

The core of this long-overdue reform is to turn away from a sclerotic system that tends to bend over backwards to protect bad employees while it cavalierly discourages good employees by keeping them from achieving the rewards and pay they deserve for serving the taxpayers well.

About 80 percent of Arizona state workers are “covered” employees with the remaining 20 percent being “uncovered” or at-will employees like those in the private sector. That means four out of five state bureaucrats are protected from the normal considerations and expectations demanded from those working outside of government.

Try firing the lazy, insubordinate and incompetent in an environment where they can appeal their demotion, discipline or dismissal to a board that can, and far too often, overturns the decision of the executive responsible for the action.

No business could succeed or survive under these rules. Is it any wonder why our state government underperforms?

Rep. Justin Olson

Leading Governor Brewer’s reform movement in the Arizona Legislature are Rep. Justin Olson and Rep. Justin Pierce, both from Mesa. After fours years of implementation, their HB 2571 will completely flip the state workforce’s ratio to 18 percent covered and 82 percent at-will employees while maintaining necessary protections for full authority public safety officers.

HB 2571 sets up a state personnel system for Arizona with the following guiding principles:

  • Recruit and select employees on the basis of their ability, knowledge and skills after open competition;
  • Provide compensation based on merit, performance, job value and competitiveness with the labor market;
  • Train employees on the basis of their performance, correct inadequate performance where possible, and separate employees whose performance in inadequate;
  • Manage applicants and employees without regard to political affiliation, race, color, national origin, sex, age, disability or religious creed; and,
  • Assure that employees are protected against coercion for partisan political purposes.

These principles will provide a firm foundation to build a state workforce that respects and serves the taxpayers who fund it. This reform creates the mechanisms to reward the worthy and remove the worthless. HB 2571 deserves and has the support of Arizona small business owners and of NFIB.

Contact your Senator and Representatives
Ask them to support HB 2571: State Personnel Reform

Farrell Quinlan is Arizona state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, the voice of small business with 7,500 small business members in Arizona.

UPDATE: HB 2571 passed the Arizona House of Representatives on Wednesday, March 14th on a 39-19 vote. The Arizona Senate now takes up the legislation. Further changes are expected to the legislation meaning a final House vote will be necessary later this session. Please continue to contact your legislators in both the House and Senate until this important reform is sent to the Governor for her signature.


  1. This legislation is probably a good move. But I am frustrated and confounded by the level of incompetence and chaos in our Legislature. You are telling me that “conservative” legislators have had control of our state legislature for years, no not even just years but multiple terms, and this archaic union controlled system is still in place?
    When will our conservative representatives produce some results? Thats my question.

  2. Justin has been in office less than one year. Who is the incompotent one here? Get your facts straight next time before you go firing off some flaming post like that!

  3. The issue is really not about eliminating incompetents. That is not really all that hard. The issue is that the skills of those in state service are increasingly not well matched to the requirements of the job. Training is non existing. Technology skills are increasingly demanded and not in evidence. The capabilities of the core of the employee base and the requirements of the job are not well matched. A significant proportion of those employees are now eligible to retire, but recent changes in retirement policy creates a counter incentive for these employees to self-select departure. I support the Governor’s proposal, but as usual, NFIB uses cartoon logic to explain an important and strategic policy change. With friends like this…

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