A report by a publicly-appointed committee on Thursday recommended reducing the number of “special advisers” in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and establishing a new socioeconomic division.

The Kucik Committee report, presented to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, said that throughout the years and under many different governments, the PMO’s staffing structure has become characterized by many “special advisers” whose managerial and professional roles in the overall office hierarchy are unclear.

The report said its recommendations aimed to “balance between the need to ensure the prime minister and his staff can function and fulfill his duties, and between the need to maintain the professionalism, effectiveness and independence of public service in Israel.”

Netanyahu appointed the Kucik Committee last February in the wake of a draft report by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss that slammed “human resource errors” in the PMO.

In January this year, Lindenstrauss published the final version of his report, which discussed at length the appointment of “special advisers,” the personal aides and advisers hired at the discretion of the prime minister, ministers and ministry directors-general separately from regular civil service staff.

Lindenstrauss found that the number of special adviser positions in the PMO has increased almost sixfold under successive governments between 1995 and 2010, and discrepancies were also uncovered in the salaries paid to special advisers, some of which were far higher than the prescribed rate.

The Kucik report’s many recommendations include making amendments to the Civil Service Regulations dealing with the prime minister’s staff, a redefinition of the PMO’s human resource needs, and the appointment of a deputy director-general to alleviate the heavy workload placed on the PMO.

In reaction to the committee’s report, Netanyahu issued a laconic response, thanking the committee for its findings and saying he would appoint two people – Moshe Leon and Uri Yogev – to study how to implement the findings.

Chaired by former PMO general director Yossi Kucik, the Kucik Committee also includes public and academic officials Yael Andorn, of the Plenus lending fund and former Treasury deputy director-general; Bar Ilan University law professor Gideon Sapir; Prof. David Dery of the Mandel Leadership Institute; and Dror Strum of the Israeli Institute for Economic Planning.

The report emphasized that, though the size of the PMO’s staff is similar to that of other Western democracies, it is not ordered efficiently and in a manner consistent with its needs.

The report recommends slashing the number of special advisers from 56 to just 25 – but without reducing overall staffing numbers in the PMO.

According to the report’s recommendations, three current ‘special adviser to the prime minister’ roles should be replaced with professional special adviser posts, which would be subordinate to the PMO director-general.

The remaining special adviser posts should be replaced with permanent professional staff in the PMO’s various departments, “to ensure professionalism, expertise and continuity,” the report recommended.

The report further recommends restructuring the PMO’s professional divisions, redefining them so that they mirror those in other government ministries.

The report recommends removing special adviser posts that act as heads of PMO professional divisions, and redefining them as ‘professional special adviser’ roles, which will be supervised by the PMO directorgeneral.

This proposal, the report said, is intended to regulate the distribution of ‘special advisers’ between the prime minister and his director-general and ensure department heads retain the appropriate level of professionalism and trust.

“This will prevent the poor practice, which has endured for over two decades, in which department heads were made to act in violation of Civil Service Regulations through no choice of their own,” the report said.

The report also proposes creating a new socioeconomic staff in the PMO, to meet the growing needs of the office. This would include appointing a deputy-director general via a tender recruitment process and new departments – an Economic and Infrastructure Division, an Interior Division and a Social Services Division.

According to the report, existing ‘special adviser’ posts in the PMO’s professional teams should be converted into permanent positions, which should each have a professional role and job description.

The report also recommends that those PMO officials whose roles are to assist the prime minister in promoting state affairs – including the director-general – and the prime minister’s aides and advisers, should be selected by the prime minister, with government approval.

The prime minister should also be permitted to appoint a further five advisers, for example a Jerusalem Affairs Adviser or an Arab Affairs Consultant, whose job descriptions should first be approved by the Civil Service Commission.

The report also set out recommendations for the qualifications special advisers should have, which were formulated by the Civil Service Commission in consultation with the prime minister. These included a university education, a good command of English and professional experience.

The report also includes a review of how special advisers are appointed in other Western democracies.

In the UK, for example, prime ministers usually personally interview civil servants for key roles in their offices, and hire professional and experienced employees, the report found.

Herb Keinon contributed to this report.

Please LIKE our Facebook page - it makes us stronger