The Mission – To enable the elected government, as well as individual ministers, to actually determine the policies of their ministries as implemented by the civil service.
Senior civil servants possess great discretionary power to determine policy. Some, e.g. senior staff in the Budget and the Accounting departments of the Finance Ministry, hold veto power over the policies of other ministries. It is nearly impossible for a government, or for one of its ministers to implement the policy they were elected to carry out unless they can appoint a cadre of administrators who are both know how particular ministries work and are committed to the government’s (or the minister’s) agenda. For example, the Israeli Education Minister found it extremely difficult to carry out a reform in the teaching of humanities in Israeli schools (with the exception of one subject–civics–and only after a major bureaucratic battle) because he could not influence the composition of education ministry’s top curriculum-setting body, the Pedagogical Committee.
Israel’s Civil Service Law (Appointments) determines that all civil service positions, excepting the general manager of a ministry whom the minister may appoint, shall be filled by open tender – i.e. with no input by elected officials. However, the law also provides a number of “escape hatches” whereby the government can define appointments to a particular civil service office or class of offices as discretionary. However for most such offices the government has submitted to political pressure and turned a large part of its discretion over to representatives of the judiciary, who have a well-known political bias.
The United States Constitution declares that Federal office shall be the gift of the President, upon confirmation (in practice) by the Senate. Civil Service laws confine this practice to an upper layer of policymaking positions.
In France a minister entering upon an office can bring with him a “cabinet” of allied managers and professional advisers who take over the levers of the ministry and run it according to the minister’s policy.
Kohelet’s Recommended Solution
Current Israeli law has all the provisions needed to enable the government to define a limited but crucial number of senior civil service positions as discretionary appointments. The current practice of passing all such appointments through the filter of a committee dominated by the judiciary is mandated by nothing more than a government decision that a government can change.
The challenge is a) to identify the critical positions, b) define them as discretionary according to procedures established by law, and c) change the nominating procedure so that if candidates for discretionary appointments need to be vetted for professional qualifications, this is done by a professional committee that elected officials not judges appoint. This is a project in progress.