Week 13 (5 Points)

It is time now to give some consideration to the issues surrounding the government employees who actually do the day to day work of government in the states and localities. For most of this country's history the "spoils" system was the preferred method of staffing government operations. The spoils system was just another name for patronage, whereby elected officials would appoint loyal supporters to government jobs. With the growth of government at all levels after the civil war and prior to World War I, a reform movement emerged which favored objectivity and merit in the hiring of government personnel.

Many critics grew concerned that as government began to participate in large-scale operations in fields requiring professional expertise - areas like health care, sanitation, epidemiology, law enforcement and education - it was necessary to shift government hiring practices from those emphasizing loyalty and accountability to those emphasizing competence. After all, it is comforting to know that the County Health Department Sanitation Aid who is testing our drinking water for microbes possesses a Master's Degree in biology. It would be discomforting knowing that he got the job because he was the County Executive's nephew.

Accordingly, in 1883 the federal government passed the Pendleton Act, which established the federal civil service. Over a century later, after several additional pieces of legislation, fully 90 percent of all jobs with the federal government are classified as civil service - that is they must be held by individuals meeting certain objective requirements.

The states and localities also expanded their civil service systems over the course of the last century, to the point where today civil service rules and regulations cover perhaps 85 percent of state and local employees at these levels. The Local Government Handbook, chapter 13, gives a nice summary of New York State's quite formidable roll in the civil service reform movement.

What civil service rules do, essentially, is protect government employees from arbitrary removal by elected officials, usually by hiring only the highest scorers on civil service exams. While civil service systems have been remarkably effective in reducing the rampant corruption associated with patronage-based political machines, they have also been the subject of quite a bit of criticism.

Suggested Readings

1. George Sinnott, "Civil Service: Bully, Bully," New York State Department of Civil Service.

2. "Patronage Ruling: Threat to Political Parties, Promise to Individual Rights," Edward Safell.

3. Joseph Dolman, "Residency Rule for Cops? Slam Door On It," Newsday.

4. Jonathan Walters, "Albany Unbound: The Cleanup of a Civil Service Mess," Governing (December 1998).

5. Local Government Handbook, chapters 13 and 14.

6. State and Local Politics, Straayer, Winkle, Polinard (textbook), chapter 12.

Click on the titles to view articles. Remember, some of the article links for this course are scanned images and are not easy to read. In some cases it may be easier to print out those articles that are difficult to read in hard copy form.


For this assignment I would like you to describe how civil service and patronage systems work and what their advantages and disadvantages are in no more than two pages.

Please discuss:

1. Three areas of criticism of civil service systems and at least two areas that are considered strengths of civil service systems.

2. At least two reasons why patronage hiring practices can be good and two reasons why they are bad.

3. Discuss two or three methods for overcoming civil service problems.

4. Discuss the reasons that large cities today often institute "residency requirements" for city employees.

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