The U.S. government has put expertise and competence ahead of political considerations when it hires people for more than 135 years.
As a result of changes made during President Chester Arthur’s administration, the vast majority of government jobs can only be awarded on the basis of merit. Prospective employees historically had to complete a competitive exam and today must complete detailed applications, undergo interviews and get their background checked. Employees also cannot be fired or demoted for political reasons.
These rules apply to all but about 4,000 politically appointed employees among the 2 million people who work for the federal government, not counting postal service workers. Those only require presidential support and, for around 1,200 of these jobs, Senate confirmation.
The Trump administration is taking several steps that could remove safeguards against partisanship and nepotism in the federal workforce. Among other things, it is pushing to dissolve the Office of Personnel Management, which oversees the administration of the civil service system. Democrats are objecting to this move.
As a public administration researcher, I look at how political partisanship influences the relationship between government employees and elected officials.
To understand why scholars like me and other experts are concerned that dismantling OPM could harm the civil service system by making it more partisan, it is helpful to understand why the U.S. moved toward a merit-based system in the first place.
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May, Matthew, "The Trump Administration Wants to Dismantle the Agency Overseeing 2 Million Federal Workers – and Weaken Safeguards Against Partisanship" (2019). University Author Recognition Bibliography: 2019. 9.