Cabinet to approve transfer of Civil Service Commission to PMO

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's proposal has received the backing of new Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On.

The cabinet is set to vote on Sunday on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's proposal to transfer the Civil Service Commission from the Treasury to the Prime Minister's Office. Olmert has received the backing of new Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On for the move. Civil Service Commissioner Shmuel Hollander told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that it was a good idea to move the commission to the Prime Minister's Office, and that had he been asked for his opinion, he would have supported the move. "From an organizational point of view, the right place for the Civil Service Commission is in the Prime Minister's Office," said Hollander, who has headed the commission for more than 10 years. He said the commission was the only Treasury division that did not deal with financial matters. The Civil Service Commission was set up in the early years of the state as a unit in the Prime Minister's Office to oversee the organizational structure and division of responsibilities between government units and to approve permanent appointments to government ministries. In the 1960s, the commission was assigned to the Treasury where it remained until 1996, when it went back to the Prime Minister's Office. Four years ago, when Likud Chairman Binyamin Netanyahu was finance minister, then-prime minister Ariel Sharon agreed that the commission would once again come under the control of the Treasury, where it has remained until today. The proposal to move the commission back to the Prime Minister's Office has been criticized by some Treasury officials and by Labor MK Ophir Paz-Pines. Pines wrote a letter to Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz asking him to delay the transfer until the police investigations into alleged illegal political appointments made by Olmert when he headed the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor have been completed. Pines wrote that it was inappropriate that someone who was under investigation for allegedly making unlawful political appointments oversee the body that controls jobs in the civil service. A source in the Prime Minister's Office dismissed the criticism as nonsense. The source said those making such claims should first understand how the Israeli public sector operated. "The Civil Service Commission does not decide on appointments alone," the source said, "and the prime minister or finance minister cannot intervene in selecting candidates, anyway." The source said the Kubersky Committee on civil service reform recommended in 1989 that the commission come under the auspices of the Prime Minister's Office. Also, the source in the PMO said, the Civil service Commission has been damaged during the period it part of the Finance Ministry, as Treasury officials were constantly trying to cut its budget. Hollander said there was no reason to fear that the prime minister would interfere in the procedures for choosing civil service employees, even though he was under investigation for allegedly making political appointments in the Small and Medium Business Authority. "The commission has independent statutory powers," he said. "Neither the finance minister nor the prime minister [when the commission was located in the Prime Minister's Office] interfered. They cannot bring in their own person or intervene in a public tender." Former Civil Service Commission head Avraham Friedman, dean of the Sarnat School of Management, said it hardly mattered where the commission was located. What was crucial was to reform the commission and turn it into a professional research and policy making organization, he said. "The Civil Service Commission should be a staff unit that determines policy, what should be the manpower policy in the civil service, what kind of civil service we need," said Friedman. "It does not have to manage the manpower in the civil service. This should be left to the individual ministries." Friedman cited as an example the need for a professional staff unit that would be responsible for planning and policy in the civil service. One year, during negotiations with the Histadrut Labor Federation over salary increases for civil servants, the Finance Ministry proposed promoting employees to higher civil service ranks rather than increasing their pay at the rank they currently held. This solution solved the immediate problem of the Treasury and the Histadrut, but was not necessarily in the best interests of the civil service, Friedman said. The Civil Service Commission, he said, should be able to determine policy and speak independently in its own best interests. In the end, Friedman, said, "it doesn't really matter where the Civil Service Commission sits. What matters is what it does. If it does turn into a professional staff unit, it would be best if it were located in the Prime Minister's Office rather than at the Finance Ministry. But it could also be assigned to a minister-without-portfolio, as is done in England."