Local Government Personnel Administration: Heritage, Contemporary Practice, and Portents

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Roughly a century ago, American cities were the fulcrum of development of professional public personnel administration. Although the federal government had enacted the Pendleton Act in 1883, the principal components of the merit system -- job testing, selection rules, classification, and pay -- were forged in municipal research bureaus in many large cities (Finegold, 1995). These bureaus provided the intellectual organization for Progressive reformers, who battled political machines and machine politics in countless locales. The reforms they devised dominated the principal personnel functions in most cities for well over six decades. During the past thirty-five years, cities have found it necessary to modernize their personnel systems and to augment the functions of HRM. Civil rights laws and the impetus to create a representative workforce as well as the government reinvention movement and the growth of information systems technology have all stimulated a reexamination of and recreation of basic practices. This chapter will examine the history and the present state of traditional personnel functions, as well as new functions caused by workforce diversity, technology, and the rise of e-government. Since there are so many local governments that can range in size from a few thousand to 8 million, certain elements will pertain to all while some will not be as widely shared.

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