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The Bureaucrats: A History

Page history last edited by mberry 14 years, 4 months ago

Previous Section: Regulation

Next Section: The Bureaucrats: The Who's and How's



The Bureaucrats 


          So you finally have a grasp on the basic structure and function of the bureaucracy, but now you might be wondering who are the actual bureaucrats? When many people think of the bureaucracy and its bureaucrats, they might think of all the high-up cabinet members or other "important" people. In actuality, a bureaucrat is any person who is employed by one of the many bureaucratic organizations. This could include people from the average Joe or Jane working at the post office and your regular underpaid public school teacher to the heads of President Obama's Cabinet, such as Robert M. Gates (Head of the Department of Defense).  The term civil servant  also comes up often when speaking of bureaucracy, and a civil servant can be defined to be any employee of the public services that is not part of the military.  In this section we will explore the growth and meanings of bureaucrats.



Civil Service Reform: Evolution from Patronage to Merit



          Ever since the creation of a three cabinet bureaucracy in 1789, the number of bureaucrats has grown along with the entire bureaucracy. The ways in which these bureaucrats have been appointed and retained have also undergone much change. Through the 1880s, many times bureaucrats were given their position based on a patronage systemwhere positions were doled out due to political loyalty . This changed as controversies arose that brought about the end of a patronage based system and the shift to a merit based system. In a merit based system, appointments are made because of someone's ability and proficiency, which is usually measured by objective criteria or a test.[1]




Before the Jacksonian Era




President Andrew Jackson


            Up through the 1820s, the bureaucracy was dominated by wealthy eastern elites. In this time period, bureaucracy appointments were not regulated by laws, and in essence, anyone could have been given a position in the bureaucracy. This also meant that the elites tended to hold on to their positions in the bureaucracy. Thankfully, this did not stunt the development of our new nation as the bureaucracy was relatively small at the time (or else maybe we would live in an oligarchy right now...which could be bad). This was to be expected as most people would have been against a strong Executive Branch and there was not a large amount of people or land to watch over.


            The President's of this era proved to tend to chose their appointments wisely, though with some bias.  George Washington set the precedent by selecting his nominees based on their capabilities and reputation.  Following Washington, Adams adhered to his predecessors policy of having candidates demonstrate their ability prior to appointment. However, both Washington and Adams were influenced by their Federalist ideas and ended with a mainly Federalist staff.  To counterbalance the mainly Federalist bureaucracy, Thomas Jefferson appointed only Democratic-Republicans until there was a balance between the two parties.  James Madison, James Monroe, and John Quincy Adams also all exercised their power to appoint and remove conservatively and did not do much to wreck the status quo.[3]


            In general, these first six Presidents were among those who formulated the Constitution and created a civil service with ability and integrity (in St. Gregory terms: leadership, scholarship, and character....wait--flip that around).  The only true restraint placed on bureaucrats at the time was the Tenure of Office Act of 1820, which limited the term of many officials to four years.  This was based around the rotation in office theory.  In theory, the capable bureaucrats would still be reappointed, while the President was given the opportunity to clean out the less capable ones, though Jackson decided to use it for other purposes.[4]


A quick break: 


Jacksonian Era Bureaucracy


          With the election of Andrew Jackson in 1828, the patronage system was brought into full view.  In this era, Jackson, a populist President who had the support of the common man, opened government jobs to the regular people. He also fought against the elites who attempted to retain their positions in the executive branch. Jackson argued that the President must be able to control those who administered the laws around him in order to faithfully execute his duties. This meant that those around the President must also be loyal to him. Consequently, Jackson used the rotation in office theory to appoint new officers who he thought were loyal to his party. Sounds reasonable at first, right? At the time, most of America thought so too. This rotation was facilitated by the growing private sector and settlement opportunities that brought about new bureaucratic positions. Thus, this rotation was seen to be a way the President could check the development and power of a retainer bureaucracy, a bureaucracy where members are able to maintain their positions. But what if Jackson decided to give these positions away to people who were loyal but incompetent. Sounds sort of like patronage, huh? The people of America began to see that this rotation brought about an extremely partisan bureaucracy and less than adequate appointments every time a new party took control of the presidency and appointed fresh officials. This system of appointments was soon deemed the spoils system.[5][6]




The Shift


 In the years up until 1883, many Presidents abused the spoils system, while others tried to reform it.  In all cases, the vicious cycle of patronage was seen.  Lincoln himself made over 1,400 removals, and Andrew Johnson's impeachment occurred due to his use of the spoils system and unauthorized removal of an official (see 

presidency chapter).[7]

          For many years, patronage remained controversial and lodged the bureaucratic system until President Garfield was assassinated in 1883. Basically, when James A. Garfield was elected to office, he appointed republican James G. Blaine as his Secretary of State. Everything was fine until Charles J. Guiteau, who wrote a speech supporting Garfield in the elections, believed he deserved some position in office because he thought his speech was crucial to Garfield's election. Consequently, after too many personal requests to try and persuade the President to appoint him to an ambassadorship, Blaine wrote back to Guiteau telling him to never to return.  And yup, you guessed it: Guiteau was so infuriated that he bought a gun and shot Garfield.[8]

          After Garfield's death, emotions rising from the public about the spoils system led to the passing of the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883. This act established the United States Civil Service Commission and marked the beginning of the end for the spoils system. It put many federal employees under a merit based system and provided that some government jobs be decided by competitive exams. These federal employees were those under a classified list of jobs, which expanded over time to create a competent bureaucracy. When the act was passed in 1883less than 15,000 jobs were classified, but by the time McKinley took the presidency in 1898, 86,000 (almost half of the federal employees) jobs were in the classified positions.[9]  In just 14 years there was almost a 6 fold increase in classified jobs.


Eliminating the remnants of patronage and encouraging equal opportunity


          As with most laws, the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act was not able to clean the system of patronage right away. After the act was passed, the bureaucracy was still influenced by partisanship, and The Hatch Act of 1939 was passed for the purpose of creating a nonpartisanship bureaucracy. The Hatch Act stated that federal employees must not engage in partisan political activities while performing their services, and more importantly it forbade federal officials from using promises of jobs, contracts, or other benefits to gain political support or campaign contributions.[10] Even though it seems as if this limits some of the liberties of civil servants, it has been argued that this is the price to be paid to have a nonpolitical and not corrupt bureaucracy.

Click here to explore the controversy over the Hatch Act



     As the Hatch Act became enforced by the government, the only other big complaint about the way appointments and bureaucratic positions were handled came down to racial and sexual discrimination. During the second half of the 20th century, the Civil Rights Movement and feminist movement rose in earnest as both factions called for equal opportunity and treatment. In terms of the bureaucracy, this meant that the The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 was passed. The act abolished the previous U.S. Civil Service Commission and gave most of its functions to three other agencies: the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the Merit Systems Protection Board, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).[11]  Thus the Civil Service Reform Act was able to enforce anti-discrimination laws and provide equal opportunity programs in the civilian federal workplace.




 Have some fun with hangman: 



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Next SectionThe Bureaucrats: The Who's and How's


  1. This paragraph takes information from- Law Library: American Law and Legal Information. "Patronage." 2009. http://law.jrank.org/pages/9120/Patronage.html
  2. Picture taken from- http://bookexcerpts.files.wordpress.com/2009/07/andrew-jackson.jpg
  3. This paragraph takes information from- opm.gov. "Key Events: Ninety-Six Premerit Years: 1789-1883." 11 Nov. 2009 http://www.opm.gov/BiographyofAnIdeal/PUevents1789p01.htm
  4. This paragraph takes information from- opm.gov. "Key Events: Ninety-Six Premerit Years: 1789-1883." 11 Nov. 2009 http://www.opm.gov/BiographyofAnIdeal/PUevents1789p01.htm
  5. This paragraph takes information from- CliffNotes.com. "The Growth of the Federal Bureaucracy." 11 Nov. 2009. http://www.cliffsnotes.com/WileyCDA/CliffsReviewTopic/The-Growth-of-the-Federal-Bureaucracy.topicArticleId-65383,articleId-65485.html
  6. This paragraph takes information from- opm.gov. "Key Events: Ninety-Six Premerit Years: 1789-1883." 11 Nov. 2009 http://www.opm.gov/BiographyofAnIdeal/PUevents1789p01.htm
  7. This paragraph takes information from- The U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Key Events: Ninety-Six Premerit Years: 1789-1883. http://www.opm.gov/BiographyofAnIdeal/PUevents1789p01.htm
  8. This paragraph takes information from- awesomestories.com. "Guiteau and the Assassination of President Garfield." 11 Nov. 2009 http://www.awesomestories.com/biographies/charles-guiteau/story-preface
  9. This paragraph takes information from- economicexpert.com. "Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act." 13 Nov. 2009. http://www.economicexpert.com/a/Pendleton:Civil:Service:Reform:Act.htm
  10. This paragraph takes information from- goveexec.com. "The Hatch Act." 13 Nov. 2009.
  11. This paragraph takes information from- "Civil Service Reform Act (1978)." Major Acts of Congress. Ed. Brian K. Landsberg. Macmillan-Thomson Gale, 2004. eNotes.com. 2006. 13 Dec, 2009

Comments (1)

mberry said

at 12:31 pm on Nov 12, 2009

Ugh! Jason -- I tried to enable the javascript...but I seem to have failed! HELP!!!!

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