October 6, 2006

Bertucci Tackles HR Change

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Pay levels, managing human resources, turnover and switching to merit-based systems are some of the major problems the public sector faces according to Guido Bertucci, director of the Division for Public Administration and Development Management at the United Nations.

Last night Bertucci spoke in Malott Hall on “Unlocking the Human Potential for Public Sector Performance,” based on the World Public Sector Report for 2005.

Bertucci feels the most pressing need is to switch from systems of seniority to merit-orientation. This higher level of professionalism “is an excellent predictor of the quality of the public service,” he said.

Pay levels also have a positive impact on bureaucratic quality. In the public sector, those lower on the pay scale tend to fare better than those in private sector, but moving up the ladder, the reverse is true, according to Bertucci. This can become a real problem in developing countries, where it can become necessary to “tip” a bureaucrat to get a driver’s license. Bertucci continued, “Even the undersecretary in a developing country, who is in charge of thousands of people, can be paid literally a pittance. It encourages corruption.”

“Dr. Bertucci’s presentation showed not only how much we know about how to reform public administration, but how far we have to go,” said Micah Gell-Redman grad.

Working internationally, there are additional challenges to overhauling the human resources administration. Bertucci advised against using a one-size-fits-all approach, starting with a completely blank slate. “You need to start with what you have, what you can do realistically without disrupting culturally.”

Leila McNeill grad thought that he had a “good model of administrative strategy,” though she would have liked to see something about implementation, “how these things really work.”

Some countries still rely totally on the spoils system for civil servants, Bertucci said. “When the government changes, everybody changes,” he explained. This lack of continuity can be very harmful, as it results in “a lack of institutional memory,” in which knowledge and competencies are lost.
Turnover is increasing due to the aging of the workforce, resulting in what Bertucci calls the “population pyramid.” There are more people retiring than there are new employees to fill their place. The U.N. itself will be especially hard-hit by the problem, as 30 percent of its staff from 2000 will have retired before 2010. These retirees can also put a strain on the system, as the organization has to pay for pensions.

In Brazil, there are many more collecting pensions than currently employed by the government, and pension payments make up 4.3 percent of GDP, Bertucci said. He warned that “there are very serious consequences” to reforms like cutting pension benefits. However, he stressed the importance of making human resource changes. “It affects the performance and development of the government; it affects the well-being of the country.”

For Ammad Bahalim grad the best part of the talk was the question and answer. “I think it’s great that we can sort of grill people here. It’s important to ask things like if the U.N. itself is accountable, and who they’re accountable to.”