Gov. Jan Brewer's proposal to end civil service protection for most of the state's 82,000 employees is drawing keen attention from government reformers and unions alike.

A bill to overhaul the system, HB2571, has passed one committee in the state House and is awaiting further action.

As it waits, both sides are scrambling to shore up support or organize opposition, and the fact that Brewer has made it one of her "four cornerstones of reform" has intensified the interest.

The legislation, at 275 pages, would scrap the existing personnel system, replacing it with an "at-will" system of hiring and firing in which state department heads could operate as the private sector does in dealing with employees.

Proponents say the current system has created a bureaucratic nightmare, making it difficult and costly to get rid of state workers who are involved in misconduct or who underperform. Opponents say the system protects employees from political whim and arbitrariness and affords them due process.

“You really need a wholesale and comprehensive reform of the system to eliminate those presumptions that are so easily manipulated by creative lawyering," said Nick Dranias, director of the Center for Constitutional Government at the Goldwater Institute, in an interview for Arizona Week.

The Goldwater Institute has pushed governmental personnel reform and produced an in-depth investigative report in December 2010 that has helped drive Brewer's proposed policy changes.

Read the Goldwater Institute report: View at Google Docs | Download File

“What does it take to discipline a government worker?," asked Mark Flatten, an investigative journalist for the Goldwater Institute. He reported and wrote the influential piece.

"What we found is there is a litany of rules, regulations, statutes, in some cases union contracts that make it very difficult, very time consuming, very expensive,” Flatten said in an Arizona Week interview.

Leaders of unions and organizations that represent state employees disagreed that the system needs wholesale change.

“The system is not broken," said Sheri Van Horsen, president of Local 3111 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, based in Phoenix. "We agree that there are some personnel rules that can be modified and improved upon, but the bill that we’re looking at and discussing today, HB2571, is overreaching. We feel it’s dangerous, and it’s reckless.”

Likewise, Jimmy Chavez, president of the Arizona Highway Patrol Association, said he believes the current law enforcement merit system works to protect not only employees, but state government and the public. Thus, Chavez said, it should be kept intact for employees of the Department of Public Safety.

“The bill that was introduced last week is problematic for all DPS employees in general, not just the patrol officers but also the civilian support staff that we have working for the agency as well,” he said.

Under the legislation, law enforcement officers would be exempt from the at-will system. But the current law enforcement merit system would be replaced with one in which there is a board that serves only as an adviser to the DPS director, Chavez said.