Hit & Run

Massachusetts Civil Service Mess


John O'Leary, former chairman of the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission and a long-ago policy analyst at Reason Public Policy Institute, has written a fascinating look at how the Bay State doles out public sector jobs.

Forget about minority preferences; O'Leary exposes how "absolute preferences"--i.e. hands and legs up to connected, if undistinguished, candidates--make a mockery of civil service exams and merit-based hiring. One example among many:

In 2003, Brockton [Massachusetts] wanted to hire some police officers who could speak Portuguese. The number 6 candidate on the civil service list was a white individual who scored 75. Number eight was a minority candidate scoring 97.

Both spoke Portuguese and were Brockton residents; neither was a veteran. Why would a minority who scored 22 points higher go to the back of the hiring bus? The state was simply following the rules dictated by absolute preferences when it sent out this topsy-turvy list.

The minority candidate is not the only loser; the city of Brockton also loses. Of the 996 police candidates who passed the test, the number six candidate was outscored by 976 of them. So Brockton has someone who barely passed the exam responding to 911 calls, handling evidence in murder trials, and trying to break up gangs.

Whole thing here.