Public Administration ETDs

Publication Date



The thesis focuses on the processes used by the Federal Government to effect reduction in force among employees in the competitive service. The reduction in force process, in general, determines which employees will be retained in their current jobs, which employees will displace others, and which employees must be released when a work force is reduced. Three major topics are presented: background, the algorithm and rationale, and critique.

The background is a historical survey of retention and removal considerations used in the federal Government since 1789. Histories and documents of the personnel and civil service literature were examined for information on removal and retention. Formal retention criteria as well as formal appointment criteria were found to be superfluous as long as the personnel system was based on patronage. Formalization of retention criteria has paralleled but lagged the growth of the civil service system.

The Veterans Preference Act of 1944 founded the present reduction in force system on notions of tenure, length of service, performance, and veterans' preference. The procedures developed by the Civil Service Commission to implement this Act have been decomposed into elemental events and decisions and an algorithm of some 200 events and decisions has been constructed. Ambiguities and inconsistencies discovered are discussed. A principal finding was that outcomes varied according to order of consideration of persons affected. This is believed to be significant because no particular order of consideration is specified in the otherwise detailed procedures. Hence, some implicit, perhaps unintended, options are available to processors.

The algorithm presented is not held out to be definitive, it is rather one algorithm of one set of options that an agency might reasonably choose. The discussion of the algorithm points out the options and some considerations and effects of their use.

The mechanics of algorithm construction are not described. Instead the reader is given directions to pertinent portions of representative works in the literature of mathematical logic, computers, decision-making, simulation, systems analysis, and modeling.

The final portion of the paper critiques the reduction in force process as a whole and points out current efforts at reform. The criticisms of the 1949 and 1955 Hoover Commissions are found to be still valid. Controversy is shown to revolve around which retention criteria should be used and which should dominate others.

The thrust of the discussion is to show the obstacles that must be overcome to make substantial changes in the system. Some improvements recommended by the Hoover Commissions and recent suggestions by the Department of Defense are found to be desirable.

The conclusion is that the field manager can do little more than attempt to make the system more bearable, as with computer execution of the algorithm, inasmuch as substantial change is not likely in the near future.

Degree Name

Public Administration

Level of Degree


Department Name

School of Public Administration

First Committee Member (Chair)

Albert H. Rosenthal

Second Committee Member

Lloyd Wilber Wooruff

Third Committee Member

John Mace Hunger



Document Type