State comptroller slams PMO 'human resource errors'

Lindenstrauss says appointments violate principles of equal opportunity, damage public trust in civil service.

311_Micha Lindenstrauss (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
311_Micha Lindenstrauss
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In a harsh report published Tuesday afternoon, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss sharply criticized staff appointments in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
The report specifically refers to 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 submits longest-ever report to Knesset
The number of special adviser positions in the PMO has increased almost sixfold between 1995 and 2010, the report says.
At the time of the audit, which was conducted between February 2010 and February 2011, there were 53 special adviser positions in the PMO, including aides and consultants to the prime minister, the director general and the cabinet secretary.
“The report reveals significant defects in [special adviser appointments] in the Prime Minister’s Office, some of which originated during previous governments, and which have intensified over the years,” Lindenstrauss’s office said.
Though the audit was carried out during Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s time in office it also covers previous administrations dating back to 1995.
The PMO noted the State Comptroller’s report refers to the decade during which there were seven governments and five prime ministers, and said that during Netanyahu’s administration, the number of special advisers has been cut.
“Though under previous governments the number of special advisers grew, since taking office Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has cut six special adviser posts despite a significant increase in the volume of work,” said the PMO in its statement.
According to the report, the increase in special adviser posts between 1995 and 2010 was not based on any comprehensive and thorough needs analysis process, and the approval of the majority of those posts was not in accordance with civil service regulations.
The audit also revealed that although civil service regulations stipulate that ministers may employ no more than six bureau aides, the Civil Service Commission approved a far greater number of posts.
Between 1995 and 2005 the number of bureau aids grew to 13, though during the audit only 12 of these posts were filled. Six of the people hired to those posts were employed as secretaries in the Prime Minister’s Bureau.
Discrepancies were also uncovered in the salaries paid to special advisers, some of which were far higher than the prescribed rate.
The report goes on to criticize the PMO for providing exemptions from public recruitment tenders, noting that only 10 out of 48 prime ministerial aides and advisers met civil service requirements for being appointed without a public tender process.
According to civil service regulations, the prime minister, ministers, and general directors of government offices may appoint special advisers to their staff at their own discretion, without such a public tender process.
However, according to the Civil Service Law (1959) and Supreme Court rulings, special advisers are subject to certain restrictions, including being prohibited from working as part of the regular management hierarchy of a ministry and from supervising other civil service workers directly.
The report found that several PMO special advisers hold management positions, including in the National Economic Council, and that some were in roles similar to those carried out by professional staff who had been hired according to public recruitment processes.
There were also blatant discrepancies between the stated job description of some special advisers and their actual roles, the report said.
“This severely harms the PMO’s governmental, professional and apolitical character, and its strictness in filling job positions with professional staff, whose loyalty is first and foremost to the principles of public service,” Lindenstrauss said in the report.
At the beginning of March, after the State Comptroller’s office published a draft copy of the report, Netanyahu announced the establishment of an external committee to examine the PMO’s structure and the appropriate format for appointing office staff.
The committee, chaired by former PMO general director Yossi Kucik and which also includes public and academic officials, was also expected to make recommendations for appropriate regulations and legislative changes.
In a statement on Tuesday, the PMO said the Kucik Committee is expected to submit its findings by the end of the year.
In July, the committee told the State Comptroller’s office that it was “continuing its work on examining special adviser roles in the PMO and government ministries.” Lindenstrauss recommended in the report that the PMO make the report’s findings known to the committee.
“Above all, we must make very sure not to infringe the infrastructures as set out by the provisions of the law and by the procedures stipulated by it,” Lindenstrauss concluded.
The PMO pointed out that in comparison, the White House has around 3,500 special advisers, a figure over 150 times greater per capita than Israel.
“The State Comptroller did not mention the names of any employees, and for good reason – and we expect that the media exercise the same caution,” the statement added.