Civil Service Through the Looking Glass

What we know today as Civil Service was created 129 years ago, in 1883, by the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act to provide continuity in essential government services (and there probably are a few) without the risk of the accumulated experience of government employees who actually did the jobs being eliminated by the so-called "spoils system" where the political party in power could (and did) replace huge numbers of government workers and replaced them with cronies and supporters regardless of their expertise in the field for which they were hired.

After the Pendleton Act was passed and signed by the President, employees of the Federal government were to be hired based on merit.  That merit was to be determined by competitive tests for all applicants, much in the same way that the bureaucracy of Imperial China was created by the taking of tests to become a mandarin.  Since that system seemed to have worked pretty well for about 2,000 years, citizens were provided with at least a measure of confidence that such a system would work here, too.

Since then, every one of the states has adopted similar laws to be applied to their own public employee selection process.

Sadly, we have created today a sort of Alice-through-the-Looking-Glass mirror image of the spoils system.  Instead of the winners of elections picking who will be employed by the government, the government employees band together to pick the politicians who will be elected.

Just look at the situation in Wisconsin.  After telling every potential voter what he planned to do if elected Governor, Scott Walker was elected and then did what many in Wisconsin, and elsewhere in the nation, considered unthinkable.  He actually did what he said he was going to do.  He did what the people of Wisconsin thought might actually help their state when they entered the voting booth in 2010 and voted for Walker rather than his Democrat opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.  A majority of the citizens of Wisconsin decided that Scott Walker was the guy to hire to straighten out the fiscal mess that their state was in. 

Yet what he did, even with the support of a majority of the citizens of Wisconsin in full support, has lead to an attempted (but, admittedly, completely legal) coup, led by the public employee unions and given strong support by other unions across the nation.

Indicative polling, while not as accurate as a vote tally, suggests that Governor Walker still retains the support of the ordinary citizens of Wisconsin.  In fact, it might appear even stronger in the polling booth, since it is likely there are union members who work in private industry who are tired of paying taxes to support the lavish wages and pension benefits of public employees that they themselves can't achieve.  These folks might be a bit bashful, as union members themselves, publicly criticizing fellow union members in answering a pollster.  They might not be so reluctant in the privacy of the voting booth to express their rancor. 

The June 5th recall election might or might not be a signal of things to come in November, but should Governor Walker handily defeat the recall, it will send an absolutely chilling message to public sector unions around the nation that the gravy train has jumped the tracks, and they will no longer be able to dictate who their bosses will be.

Jim Yardley is a retired financial controller for a variety of manufacturing firms, a Vietnam veteran and an independent voter.  Jim blogs at http://jimyardley.wordpress.com/, or he can be contacted directly at james.v.yardley@gmail.com

What we know today as Civil Service was created 129 years ago, in 1883, by the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act to provide continuity in essential government services (and there probably are a few) without the risk of the accumulated experience of government employees who actually did the jobs being eliminated by the so-called "spoils system" where the political party in power could (and did) replace huge numbers of government workers and replaced them with cronies and supporters regardless of their expertise in the field for which they were hired.

After the Pendleton Act was passed and signed by the President, employees of the Federal government were to be hired based on merit.  That merit was to be determined by competitive tests for all applicants, much in the same way that the bureaucracy of Imperial China was created by the taking of tests to become a mandarin.  Since that system seemed to have worked pretty well for about 2,000 years, citizens were provided with at least a measure of confidence that such a system would work here, too.

Since then, every one of the states has adopted similar laws to be applied to their own public employee selection process.

Sadly, we have created today a sort of Alice-through-the-Looking-Glass mirror image of the spoils system.  Instead of the winners of elections picking who will be employed by the government, the government employees band together to pick the politicians who will be elected.

Just look at the situation in Wisconsin.  After telling every potential voter what he planned to do if elected Governor, Scott Walker was elected and then did what many in Wisconsin, and elsewhere in the nation, considered unthinkable.  He actually did what he said he was going to do.  He did what the people of Wisconsin thought might actually help their state when they entered the voting booth in 2010 and voted for Walker rather than his Democrat opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.  A majority of the citizens of Wisconsin decided that Scott Walker was the guy to hire to straighten out the fiscal mess that their state was in. 

Yet what he did, even with the support of a majority of the citizens of Wisconsin in full support, has lead to an attempted (but, admittedly, completely legal) coup, led by the public employee unions and given strong support by other unions across the nation.

Indicative polling, while not as accurate as a vote tally, suggests that Governor Walker still retains the support of the ordinary citizens of Wisconsin.  In fact, it might appear even stronger in the polling booth, since it is likely there are union members who work in private industry who are tired of paying taxes to support the lavish wages and pension benefits of public employees that they themselves can't achieve.  These folks might be a bit bashful, as union members themselves, publicly criticizing fellow union members in answering a pollster.  They might not be so reluctant in the privacy of the voting booth to express their rancor. 

The June 5th recall election might or might not be a signal of things to come in November, but should Governor Walker handily defeat the recall, it will send an absolutely chilling message to public sector unions around the nation that the gravy train has jumped the tracks, and they will no longer be able to dictate who their bosses will be.

Jim Yardley is a retired financial controller for a variety of manufacturing firms, a Vietnam veteran and an independent voter.  Jim blogs at http://jimyardley.wordpress.com/, or he can be contacted directly at james.v.yardley@gmail.com

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