Government Merit Systems

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Elimination of Merit Systems

For many reasons, merit based civil service systems have come under assault and yet at the same time have been hailed. Merit systems do however attempt and achieve many important objectives including ensuring that an effective workforce is attracted and maintained by providing protections against arbitrary termination and by attempting to avert politically influenced hiring and promotions. Notwithstanding, the way merit systems go about attracting a workforce and the varied protections against termination are the cause of antipathy. Many would agree that a better civil service system is needed. This better civil service system should reward good service and punish bad or mediocre service with dismissal or no promotion. Equally important, this new system has to have a process to hire quality employees quickly. However, this better system needs to have all the mechanisms that are in the current merit systems to protect against corruption. This paper argues in favor of eliminating both merit system protections and merit in hiring and promotions, while at the same time evaluating the various arguments against merit systems. In public administration literature, it is argued that in order for the bureaucracy to be both efficient and effective, it has to be staffed by tenured bureaucrats who feel relatively secure in their positions and receive adequate compensation. The bureaucracy attains its power from the experience of its workforce. Indeed, the bureaucracy is made up of "seasoned and knowledgeable 'old hands'" who have molded relations with organizations and government itself (Kaufman 2001, 8-42). Therefore, if returning to a spoils system results in arbitrary terminations the bureaucracy would be robbed of the most experienced administrators who bestow effectiveness within an agency. An important point regarding the removal of protections against arbitrary terminations is made by Charles T. Goodsell who argues that removing protections causes an "Am I Next?" mindset to occur where employees agonize over the threat of termination and which in itself can result in diminished effectiveness (1998, 653-660). In a related way to the "Am I Next?" syndrome is a breakdown of the "politics administration dichotomy" where administrators fearing termination would only perform those duties to please the administration (Durant 1998, 643-653). Accordingly, a break down in the "politics administration dichotomy" would seem to some to signal an increase in corruption and overall unethical behavior. Corruption is one of the big factors for the creation and continuance of a merit system. Those opposed to removing merit factors cite the abuses that occurred in the nineteenth century prior to the Pendleton Act. Also, tenured civil servants are necessary to assure that political appointees obey the law" (Maranto 1998, 623-643). Speaking about this was a Washington journalist, who argued that it was tenured civil servants of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation who blew the whistle during the Watergate scandal and for this purpose tenured civil servant are needed to serve alongside appointees (Maranto 1998, 623-643). However, Robert Maranto who is a proponent of a alternative systems, points out several occurrences where tenured civil servants and political appointees worked together, such as in the Department of Housing and Urban Development scandals during the Regan administration. Specifically, Maranto argues that when any organization, private or public is under investigation "it reacts by closing ranks to outsiders and shunning suspected whistle-blowers" (1998, 623-643). Using this rationale, it could appear that having no tenure protections is the same as having tenure protections with regard to whistle-blowing. Maranto furthers the argument of corruption stating that "regular rotation of some political officials as...
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