Understanding the Nine Merit System Protection Board Principles


When the federal civil service began, it operated on a “political patronage system” that rewarded the well-connected. Since then, the federal government has implemented many guards against cronyism, including the Merit System Principles (MSPs). Understanding these principles can help federal employees feel empowered to take action if they believe their rights have been ignored.

What Are the Nine Merit System Principles?

The Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA) of 1978 enacted nine merit system principles into law to promote fairness, protection, and stewardship. These MSPs apply to employees and applicants and are as follows:

  1. Recruitment, Selection, and Advancement – Recruit qualified individuals through fair and open competition. Selection and advancement should result from relative ability, knowledge, and skills.
  2. Equitable Treatment – All employees should receive equitable, fair treatment regardless of political affiliation, national origin, sex, race, marital status, color, age, religion, or disability.
  3. Equal Pay – Pay should be comparable to private sector pay for similar positions, and appropriate incentives and recognition should be provided for excellence.
  4. Conduct – Employees are expected to maintain high standards of conduct, integrity, and concern for the public interest.
  5. Utilization – The federal government should use its workforce effectively and efficiently.
  6. Retention – Employee retention should happen based on performance. Inadequate performance should be subject to correction and, if not improved, dismissal.
  7. Employee Training and Development – Employees should receive education and training to enhance skills and improve the performance of both the individual and the organization.
  8. Neutrality – Employees should be protected from coercion for political purposes, arbitrary action, and personal favoritism, and they should be prohibited from using their personal influence to affect or interfere with a nomination or election.
  9. Whistleblower Protection – Employees should be protected from retaliation for the lawful disclosure of violations, illegal practices, mismanagement, or abuses of authority by their employer 

What Are the 14 Prohibited Personnel Practices?

In addition to the 9 MSPs, the CSRA established the following 14 prohibited personnel practices (PPPs):

  1. Discrimination based on race, religion, color, marital status, political affiliation, national origin, age, sex, disability, or genetic information
  2. Soliciting or considering improper recommendations or statements when making an employment decision
  3. Coercing political activity or retaliating for refusing to engage in political activity
  4. Deceiving or willfully obstructing an individual’s right to compete for employment
  5. Influencing an individual to withdraw from competition to improve or injure the employment prospects of another
  6. Granting an unauthorized advantage or preference to improve or injure the employment prospects of an individual
  7. Appointing, promoting, or advocating for the appointment or promotion of a relative
  8. Retaliating against an employee for exercising whistleblower protections
  9. Retaliating against an employee for exercising their right to appeal, complain, or communicate a grievance
  10. Discriminating based on personal conduct that is not adverse to job performance
  11. Violating veterans’ preference requirements
  12. Taking or failing to take a personnel action in violation of a rule, regulation, or law, as pertaining to the merit system principles
  13. Imposing a nondisclosure agreement or policy that prevents an employee from whistleblowing
  14. Accessing medical documentation improperly

Any of these violations can subject an agency to investigation, litigation, and enforcement. Employees who are the targets of these violations may qualify for compensation.

Contact The Vaughn Law Firm Today

Civil servants are among the most essential workers in the American government, and they deserve to be treated fairly. If you are a federal employee, you have a right to feel that the merit of your work determines your career progression. However, the system does not always work perfectly, and unscrupulous actors may attempt to unfairly undermine your hard work.

The merit systems protection board lawyers from The Vaughn Law Firm know how to fight for civil servants’ rights in Georgia or Washington, D.C. We will work to protect your livelihood and recover any compensation you may be eligible to receive. Contact an MSPB lawyer today at 877-615-9495 for a free consultation to learn more about how we can help you.