In 1936, state voters adopted the Social Security Amendment to the state constitution to comply with the federal Social Security Act. The Social Security Act required employment standards based on merit for state agencies supported by federal grants-in-aid. This action led to the state's first Merit System. In August 1938, a three-member Merit System Council was appointed to administer the Merit System, which applied only to grants-in-aid agencies: Public Welfare, Employment Security, Health, and Civil Defense.
The purposes of the Merit System were to foster a competent career service free from political patronage. The System was patterned after a standard model provided by the federal Office of State Merit Systems and had no basis in Oklahoma law.
In 1959, the State Legislature created the Merit Act, thus giving the Merit System a statutory base, and provided for the extension of the Merit System to other state agencies through the issuance of Executive Orders. The Act replaced the Merit System Council with a seven-member State Personnel Board to be appointed by the Governor. The Board appointed a director who employed staff.
In 1982, the Oklahoma Legislature passed major reform legislation that replaced the Merit Act with the Oklahoma Personnel Act and created the Office of Personnel Management as the administrative agency for the state personnel system. It also created the Ethics and Merit Commission (now the Oklahoma Merit Protection Commission) as a quasi-judicial entity to decide personnel-related disputes.
Additional reforms were passed in the 1990's to provide state agencies with more flexibility while maintaining the basic protections of the merit system. The Office of Personnel Management has evolved from a primarily regulatory role into a leadership, service, and consultative role within state government.