Government » The American Bureaucracy » Toward a Merit-Based Civil Service

Toward a Merit-Based Civil Service

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Explain how the creation of the Civil Service Commission transformed the spoils system of the nineteenth century into a merit-based system of civil service
  • Understand how carefully regulated hiring and pay practices helps to maintain a merit-based civil service

While the federal bureaucracy grew by leaps and bounds during the twentieth century, it also underwent a very different evolution. Beginning with the Pendleton Act in the 1880s, the bureaucracy shifted away from the spoils system toward a merit system. The distinction between these two forms of bureaucracy is crucial. The evolution toward a civil service in the United States had important functional consequences. Today the United States has a civil service that carefully regulates hiring practices and pay to create an environment in which, it is hoped, the best people to fulfill each civil service responsibility are the same people hired to fill those positions.

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