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Patronage to Merit and Control of the Federal Government Labor Force

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Type: Working Paper
Author: Johnson, Ronald N.; Libecap, Gary D.
Date: 1991
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/5724
Sector: Social Organization
Subject(s): bureaucracy
Abstract: From p. 4: "This paper also offers an explanation for why federal employees under the merit system were extended unusual protections from removal. The Pendleton Act emphasized the use of competitive examinations to improve the quality of the federal work force, but was not written with the intent of establishing a highly protected class of employees. The early civil service reform groups, and most members of Congress at that time, were against the imposition of absolute tenure, considering it undesirable and unnecessary for civil service reform. While the use of examinations could increase the quality of the federal work force, the problem of who would control the bureaucracy remained. Constant conflict and efforts to control the allocation of patronage had been costly to both the President and members of the Congress, yet the system invoked penalties on any politician who unilaterally withdrew from the competition for control of the federal work force. Although the Pendleton Act afforded some relief from this conflict, efforts to manipulate and control staffing decisions continued. As such, this paper is about bargaining in the political arena to alter a system that had become more costly in the aggregate than the benefits it provided. The analysis offered in Section VI suggests that the subsequent establishment of civil service rules providing for a highly protected work force reflected, in part, a desire on the part of the Congress and the President to reduce a costly conflict over control of the federal bureaucracy. But in establishing a merit system, elected officials also created a new interest group — federal workers. The evidence indicates that federal employees were active in the decisions pertaining to removal powers. We start by considering a general approach to the analysis of patronage."

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