Personnel Practices:

Improper Personnel Actions on Selected CPSC Appointments

GGD-97-131: Published: Jun 27, 1997. Publicly Released: Jul 14, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO investigated alleged improper personnel activities at the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), focusing on: (1) whether the appointments of six individuals who were the subjects of the allegations were made in accordance with merit system principles and applicable rules and regulations; and (2) the number of appointments that CPSC had made at advanced rates of pay during the period beginning in March 1994 and ending in March 1997.

GAO noted that: (1) the allegations concerning the six appointments proved to be partially true; (2) the appointments did not, as alleged, constitute "burrowing in" because the individuals did not convert from noncareer political appointments to career appointments in the competitive service; (3) each of the appointments was beset, however, by one or more irregular or improper personnel actions; (4) these included: (a) three instances in which proper candidate examination and selection procedures were not followed, causing, in two cases, veterans with veterans preference eligibility to be denied proper consideration in the selection process; (b) three instances in which advanced rates of pay based on superior qualifications were set without the required documentation to justify such rates; and (c) two instances in which the proper use of the term appointment authority was questionable; (5) in December 1996, GAO asked the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which is responsible for overseeing the federal personnel system, to review GAO's findings for the six appointments and, if those findings were accurate, to tell GAO what corrective actions it would instruct CPSC to take; (6) OPM generally agreed with GAO's findings and directed CPSC to take certain actions, such as to notify the veterans that they are to receive priority consideration for the next positions that become available that are similar to those for which they had applied; (7) CPSC made 20 additional appointments between March 1994 and March 1997 in which, according to CPSC data, the appointees received advanced rates of pay; (8) in 2 of the 20 cases the individuals had resigned from CPSC, and their official personnel folders were not readily available; (9) of the remaining 18 appointments, 9 were based on the superior qualifications of the appointees and 8 were based on previous salary levels of the appointees; (10) CPSC officials attributed the irregular or improper personnel actions to administrative error and misunderstanding by its personnel staff and said that the agency has taken steps to improve its personnel operations; (11) according to CPSC's personnel director, additional training is being provided to personnel staff, internal controls are being enhanced, and guidelines are being written to help ensure that future personnel actions are conducted properly; and (12) in February 1996, OPM delegated to CPSC the authority to conduct open, competitive examinations for entry to various CPSC positions and from the results of those entry examinations, develop lists of the qualified applicants.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OPM conducted an oversight review at CPSC in June 1998 and is now preparing a report. OPM determined that: (1) a new personnel director and human resources staff are now on board; and (2) CPSC's personnel operations are now in compliance with laws and regulations.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that CPSC's efforts to improve personnel operations are successful and result in adherence to merit system principles, rules, and regulations, the Director, OPM, should include CPSC on OPM's next annual schedule of oversight reviews of agencies' personnel actions. CPSC should remain on OPM's schedule until OPM is satisfied that CPSC is maintaining personnel operations at a satisfactory level.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management


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