Web-based hiring system to fix IL's corruption woes?

Plagued by improper hiring of political friends, IL state government proposes a Web-based, blind hiring system to take the human element out of filling state jobs.

Political patronage and cronyism has a long history in Illinois. Indeed the name Daley is synonymous with the notion of politicians using their office to give state jobs to friends, backers and political bedfellows. Gov. Rod Blagojevich, campaigned in 2002 on an anti-corruption platform but has been plagued in recent months by accusations that staff members have violated the law, giving political friends jobs that the Supreme Court has protected from patronage.

Now, shining up his anti-corruption reputation, Blagojevich's administration rolled out one possible solution, a Web-based hiring system that would be less susceptible to abuse. Deputy Gov. Sheila Nix and Paul Campbell, director of the Illinois Department of Central Management Services (CMS), said the proposed system would cover 49,527 jobs within the governor's administration that under the U.S. Supreme Court's Rutan decision, cannot be filled for political reasons.

"If a legislator wants to recommend a constituent, all they can do is refer the constituent to a computer," Nix said at a Chicago news conference. "(Applicants) can go through the process. It really removes any possibility of anyone weighing in on those Rutan-covered positions."

Campbell said the secure electronic system that emerges from a competitive bidding process among vendors would be blind, meaning the identities of job applicants would be shielded from CMS officials who "grade" them. But the anonymity would not be sustained throughout the entire hiring process.

The officials spun the proposal as a good government initiative, completely unrelated to the unfolding scandal, naturally.

"It was critical that we did this with this system in order to run the business of government like a business," Campbell said. "You cannot do blind grading with a paper process."

The whole thing sounds like a Web version of those 1940s and '50s fantasies of completely rational, computer-driven decision making. No messy humans, just data in, decisions out. Computer science professor Keith Miller of the University of Illinois says it won't be that easy.

"At some point, human judgment has to come into this," he said. "It might help in the initial screening, but I don't know if it's the initial screening that's the problem."

Bidding for the project could occur this spring and the actual system could be ready by the end of the year. Officials declined to speculate on price.

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