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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Uncivil service

Well, Happy President's Day to you, too, for whatever that's worth.

 Today, let's remember Chester Arthur, who is more responsible for the federal bureaucracy we love to hate than any person in history. Until his presidency, Washington was ruled by the spoils system created by Andrew Jackson. People said it had beomce "corrupt" and "inefficient," but what it really did was clean house every time a new president took over. Arthur pushed through Congress the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act in January 1883, and government jobs ever since have been based on "merit" instead of "connections."

Bring back the inefficiency and corruption. How much worse could things be?

(As told in "Presidents' Most Wanted" by Nick Ragone.)


Bob G.
Mon, 02/16/2009 - 2:37pm

Not much worse than letting the "servants" run the manor, right?


Mon, 02/16/2009 - 3:09pm

My high school history teacher told us that "today's reforms are tomorrow's corruption." He pointed to the spoils system which was, in its time, a reform of the system that preceded it. (Opening up the government to the common man instead of just the elite.) The civil service system was, as you mention, intended to clean up the spoils system which put unqualified people in positions, not because they could do the job, but as a political reward.

Michael B-P
Mon, 02/16/2009 - 3:40pm

Lest we forget, among the American Republic founders' "best intentions" was eradication of aristocracy (i.e., power bequeathed through the accident of birth) and the overturning of an established order built upon corruption and cronyism (power acquired through political connection). Assigning blame upon Arthur's "best intentions" for seeking to reform civil service is a little like blaming the 12-step recovery program for a proliferation of substance abuse. "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves. . ."

William Larsen
Mon, 02/16/2009 - 3:46pm

Pesidents day should be a day we remember those who served our country. However, it is a day that government shuts down while the rest of us serve them. I propose that we can better honor this country by making Presidents day a non working day on Tuesday and to concide with election day. Changing it from Monday to Tuesday keeps people from making it into a three day get away. By making it a non working day, allows everyone the inability to use the execuse I cant't vote because I am working, I do not have time.

Leo Morris
Mon, 02/16/2009 - 3:55pm

But. Michael, to Doug's point about today's reforms and tomorrow's corruptions: If your 12-step program involved, say, substituting heroin addiction for alcohol addiction, maybe you'd think there was something wrong with the program. Having an entrenched bureaucracy that just goes on and on, bringing about laws merely by writing them down, never mind going through the silly old Congress, does not seem like the best solution for corruption and cronyism.

Mon, 02/16/2009 - 11:08pm

In 1917, another player entered the game. According to the NFFE, the National Federation of Federal Employees was founded in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 17, 1917. NFFE represents nearly 100,000 federal workers in agencies including the Defense and State departments and the General Services Administration.

Since its founding, NFFE has lobbied for increased pay and benefits, expanded health insurance coverage and improved support systems. In 1919, it began advocating a system to classify federal jobs as a basis for determining compensation.

In 1923, Congress passed the Classification Act, which established compensation levels and tied them to certain duties and responsibilities of job positions. According to NFFE, decreases in turnover and improvements in morale were evident across the federal workforce as a result.

Yeah, right! Suddenly Civil Service employees were guaranteed high paying jobs for life.

Michael B-P
Tue, 02/17/2009 - 3:13pm

Well sure, Leo: substituting one addiction for another is probably not the best plan on the market. But, extending the analogy a bit further, in the case of civil employees, wouldn't you agree that to allow the "addiction" to run its course (i.e., continue the "spoils system") would have been to ignore the situation altogether? When does non-intervention become denial? Surely it was one of the Founders' goals to address the defect of corruption in the design of a new system. And if reform doesn't work, if bureaucratic intransigence and inefficiency is creating too many problems, then, according to Jefferson, we're entitled to revolution.