The US Civil Service Development: from the Spoils to the Merit Based System Cover Image

Razvoj službeničkog sistema federalne uprave SAD: od potrage za političkim plenom ka ostvarenju javnog interesa
The US Civil Service Development: from the Spoils to the Merit Based System

Author(s): Aleksandra Rabrenović
Subject(s): History of Law, Public Administration, Public Law
Published by: Institut za uporedno pravo
Keywords: merit based civil service; US federal administration; human resources management
Summary/Abstract: The paper analyses historical development of the US civil service since XIX century to date. Until the end of XIX century, the US federal service was characterized by wide-spread political patronage and corruption, which resulted in a creation of a so-called »spoils system«. The Pendleton Act of 1883 made a radical shift in the development of the US civil service, by introducing the concept of non partisan merit and protection from political influence in the recruitment, promotion and retention of federal government workers. The author argues that the concept of merit further denotes a public service character – a desire to act not for individual self interest but for a broader public good. Merit is therefore related to values, ideals and ethics to the appropriate role of the civil service in democracy and thus to governance in a democratic society. The paper further analyses the provisions of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, which constitutes the first major reform of the federal public service personnel system since the Pendleton Act. The idea was to develop civil service reform proposal that would make government more efficient and businesslike. Objectives were to modernize human resource management by streamlining the system through simplification and decentralization and restructure the reform management structures by replacing the Civil Service Commission, creating the Senior Executive Service, as a highly-professional senior civil service and to address such issues as productivity, compensation and performance evaluation. Performance appraisals and merit pay were standardized and procedurally sound, but lacked in higher productivity outcomes. The original merit pay system was therefore eventually replaced and abandoned in 1993. National Performance Review (NPR) shifted the focus away from the individual performance appraisal and rewards and toward agency or organizational goals instead. Furthermore, the Senior Executive Service did not become the higher civil service that its framers had envisioned. However, members of the Senior Executive Service do enjoy the prestige of senior personnel and their position allows them to focus on leadership and career development. Nevertheless, the Senior Executive Service structure has also allowed politicians to infiltrate their political supports into the career bureaucratic structures, which had a negative effect on career civil servants morale. Politicization remains one of the weakest points of the US federal administration. The number of political appointees steadily increased during the last half ot the 20th century and beginning of the 21st century, as did the methods of appointment to those positions. A great majority of political appointees lack minimal technical qualifications or understanding of how to work with the career civil servants. Therefore, their increased number creates an extra political and management burden for the White House. Although the Presidents have legitimate authority to direct the executive branch, the career civil service assumes a level of expertise that permits questioning political directives if they are questionable or unsound. Further politicization of the civil service may, however, jeopardize civil servants commitment to broader public good and integrity in performing one’s job to the best of one’s ability and therefore put at risk the realization of the US civil service merit ideal.

  • Page Range: 49-70
  • Page Count: 22
  • Publication Year: 2008
  • Language: Serbian