Top-Level Appointments Process – Adding Deck-chairs?

RTE reports proposed changes to the Top Level Appointments process for senior Civil Service vacancies. Instead of 4 civil servants and 1 external person, the Top Level Appointments Commission will have 4 civil servants and 5 externals, one of whom will be the chair.

I went through a Top Level appointment process (unsuccessfully) in 2007. I have no doubt that the person appointed was better qualified for the job than I. However, changes to the process are undoubtedly needed. As Paul Cullen reported in the Irish Times, of 300 Top Level Appointments vacancies between 2007 and 2010, only one external candidate was successful.

Nonetheless, I’m not sure that the proposed change is the right one:

Firstly, I don’t see how a panel of nine people could possibly interview a candidate in any effective manner and sitting on the other side of a table from nine people would seem to be quite intimidating. Of course, it’s possible that a sub-set of the Commission will form an interview panel – that would be a further change and not mentioned in the RTE piece.

Secondly, it implies that all that is wrong with the process is the people running it. From my own experience, many of the questions I was asked could only have been answered ‘correctly’ by an existing or former Civil Servant. Indeed, a significant theme of the questioning was to see if I could fit into the existing system rather than contribute something new.

I fear these changes are simply putting out more deck-chairs on the Titanic.

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