Why Do We Have a Merit System?
GOVERNMENT is the largest employer in
the United States. Even before World War II began, one out of every- ten
civilians worked for government—national, state, and local. They did just
about every commonly known kind of work plus some kinds, like collecting taxes,
that are done only by governments. Serving the public in the twentieth century
requires people who have thousands of different shills and special kinds of training.
At a factory, the workman
files through the employment gate and either does: or does not get a job, depending
on whether his skill is needed that day. Or he checks at his union hiring hall
until there is a call for his services. Getting a government job, however, is
a more formal process. Indeed, it is a much more formal process today than it
was in 1881, when the National Civil Service Reform League was organized in an
effort to correct abuses of the old “spoils system.” The only way
to get a government job under the spoils system was to petition the leaders of
the political party then in power. Whenever a different party or administration
came into control, it fired at will the government employees appointed during
the preceding regime. Then it distributed their john to its own loyal supporters
in accordance with the value of their services to the party. The spoils system
didn’t make for high quality in government personnel or for efficiency in
their services to the public. It gave almost everyone a headache, especially during
house-cleaning periods when all experienced government employees had been thrown
out and the new ones had not yet learned their jobs.In contrast to the spoils
system, let’s look at the situation in the year before we entered World
War II. During the year ending June 30, 1940, more than 839,000 persons tools
civil service examinations for jobs in the national government alone. About 45
percent of them got passing grades, and about 12 percent got jobs during that
fiscal year. Most of the people who now work for national, state, and local governments
got their jobs only after taking and passing examinations which tested their qualifications.
applying for a government job can always be found in post offices or in state
and local government buildings. You can also get it by writing or visiting the
understand the why and wherefore of this formality—usually called “red
tape”—we need to know something b of how civil service came about.