Political Partronage and Public Service
Coming Senate INvestigation of Civil Service
Charges that the eisenhower administration has allowed politics to creep into the federal civil service, first made soon after the Republicans returned to power in 1953, continue to be heard and are likely to increase in volume as another presidential campaign approaches. Democratic assertions that the party in charge of the Executive Branch has undermined the merit system by patronage practices, and Republican complaints that “holdovers” in the government bureaucracy have blocked implementation of administration policies, will be given a new public airing when the Senate Civil Service Committee begins a long-heralded investigation of the civil service. The Senate on May 11 voted $75,000 for a committee inquiry into the administration of both the civil service and the postal systems.
The investigation will highlight the continuing problem of the degree to which selection of federal employees should be governed by patronage or strictly by merit considerations. And it will direct attention anew to the difficulty of achieving a workable balance between two basic requirements in management of federal personnel. One requirement, in the words of the recent Hoover Commission report on the civil service, is that “the officials responsible for establishing and defending government policies and programs…should be selected by the successful party.” The other requirement is the presence of “numerous trained, skilled, and non-partisan employees in the federal service to provide continuity in the administration of the government's activities.”
Students of public administration long have argued over how to solve the dual problem of building up a civil service competent to operate a government constantly growing more complex, and at the same time making that service responsive to the party in power. Philip Young, chairman of the Civil Service Commission, stressed the latter aspect of the problem in an address on Sept. 22, 1953, before the Society for Personnel Administration.