Strategies to Professionalize the Civil Service: Lessons from the Dominican Republic

Sep 2014
Drawing on a case study of recent reforms in the Dominican Republic, this technical note derives lessons about strategies to professionalize the civil service. As in other countries with less professionalized civil services, the Dominican Republic's political economy is biased against reform: promises of public employment tend to be important to successful electoral mobilization. Nonetheless, passage of a new public service law and its partial implementation were achieved. The case study finds that the construction of a broad societal coalition demanding reform may account for this puzzle. For legislative approval, alliance formation extended to not only traditional reform allies, such as the international community, NGOs, business associations, the media, progressive governing legislators and a politically influential minister, but also novel allies, including opposition parties. Reform implementation was fostered by the periodic and well-publicized societal monitoring of an achievable set of reform objectives aligned with the strategic priorities of the Ministry of Public Administration. As a result, political incentives were tilted towards legal reform passage and incremental compliance in civil service subsystems such as organizational structures, information systems and training not perceived as threatening to core electoral mobilization interests, yet not in more politically contentious subsystems, such as recruitment and selection. The case study underscores the desirability of constructing broad societal coalitions to enable civil service professionalization particularly in contexts where potential societal veto actors with vested interests, such as public sector unions, are largely absent. It also underscores the continued weight of political economy constraints in conditioning the subsystems in which civil service reform implementation may be achieved.