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The GOP's Red Dawn
Gov. Scott Walker Takes on Civil Service System

Burned on the presidential campaign trail, Gov. Scott Walker has hit the ground running back in Madison, seeking to pile up his “throne of skulls” even higher. His latest target: the state civil service system, which he says is inefficient and ill-suited to the realities of the twenty-first century workforce. The Journal Sentinel reports:

Just three days after ending his presidential run, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker sought to reassert his conservative credentials Thursday by backing a proposed overhaul of the state’s civil service system for 30,000 employees, saying its safeguards against political patronage in hiring and firing state workers need to keep up with the times and the crush of retiring baby boomers.

Four years after repealing most collective bargaining for most public employees, Walker and two top Republican lawmakers are seeking to: eliminate the state’s civil service exams, replacing them with a résumé-based system for merit hiring; stop allowing longtime employees to avoid termination by “bumping” other workers with less seniority out of their jobs; and shorten by more than half the process for employees to appeal their dismissal or discipline.

It’s too early to say whether Walker’s plan is exactly on target, as the details won’t be released until next week. But it’s clear that civil service system, based on lifetime employment, is need of a serious rethink in the context of an aging population, an increasingly fluid job market, and ever-more automation of clerical and administrative work. Shaking up the civil service system is key to nibbling away at the vast 19th and 20th century administrative apparatuses that most states and the federal government have constructed.

Walker’s opponents argue that scrapping civil service exams would open up public sector jobs to political influence and patronage. This is a legitimate concern. But as Francis Fukuyama has noted in these pages, the existing civil service system, once a bulwark against patronage and a guarantor of professionalism, no longer performs particularly well in these areas. The civil service has become re-politicized despite tenure rules and merit-based exams designed to shield it from political influence. In other words, political bias is a problem either way.

Whether Walker’s particular brand of reform is the right way to downsize our bloated and inefficient public sector remains to be seen. And even as the ongoing trends mentioned above should change how we run government, some offices and bureaus will still need long-term service from well-qualified professionals. But it is clear that major reform is needed, and its ironic that the people most resistant to any kind of reform—public sector unions, blue model Democrats—are also the people who depend most on an active and effective federal government. Reform-oriented politicians across the country should be experimenting with new models and seeing how the voters and taxpayers—not the public employees—respond. As Scott Walker has shown before in Wisconsin, these two groups don’t always see eye-to-eye.

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  • FriendlyGoat

    Governor Walker apparently does not know the difference between amassing a “pile of skulls” and having become a skull. I could be wrong but I think Wisconsin will now see him as a both a nut and a has-been. We can thank Mr. Trump for that

    • Dale Fayda

      Delete everything after “I could be wrong…”. Walker will win re-election (if he chooses to run again) as easily as he had the last time.

      • FriendlyGoat

        Walker believing that a wall between America and Canada is worth “considering” will help him, I’m sure.

        • CapitalHawk

          That’s what he had to say. The question was a trap. If you say “no” you are branded a racist. If you say “yes” you are then branded a kook.

          • FriendlyGoat

            So, he is now branded a kook—–and that’s a good thing. America needs a president bent on transferring wealth upward in the name of religion like we all need holes in our heads. Walker was funded from the beginning by a very few wealthy people who wanted him to “take on the unions”. Then he sold himself on Baptist and Pentecostal factors. It’s sickening, actually. Wisconsin got duped by him but the country as a whole won’t.

    • Boritz

      Right. Walker looks like an extreme nut next to Trump. In fact Trump almost looks subdued next to the gonzo Walker.

      • FriendlyGoat

        That’s actually true even though you are trying to be facetious. Trump is at least open about his bombast and extreme manner of speaking. Walker used the stealth of religion to sneak into office—-then admitting his two-faced nature after he got there. America appears to be tired of that hat-trick.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    I think as Democracy adds a small amount of the “Feedback of Competition” to the Government Monopoly, additional injections could be added. Term limits would help, but what is really needed is very heavy turnover of the Government Monopoly’s employees, by limiting Government workers to one, 4 year contract in every 10-12 years. So that they must return to the private sector and be re-exposed to the “Feedback of Competition”. Would greatly improve the Quality, Service, and Price of the Government Monopoly. It is the “Feedback of Competition” that provides both the information and motivation which forces continuous improvements in Quality, Service, and Price in free markets.

  • rheddles

    Walker is a young man. Tame civil service, take a spin in DC as a senator; he could be a formidable candidate by, say, Hillary’s age.

  • Fat_Man

    You cannot have a governmental body or officer who is not profoundly political. What ever the government does is political. The question is whether the bodies and officers will have any accountability to the people they are ultimately supposed to serve. A system where employees may be replaced at will by the elected official who manages them is more accountable than one where the employees have tenure and are more likely to die than to be removed for failure to perform.

    The so called spoils system was critiqued because the employees would be a political army that supported their employer. The civil service system was designed to avoid that.

    What has happened is that the government employees have become a political army for the permanent bureaucracy that runs the country without regard for the welfare of the people. This situation is exacerbated by the existence of government employee unions which always value tenure over service. Any American urban school system will serve as a Petri dish for this experiment.

  • Episteme

    “Whether Walker’s particular brand of reform is the right way to downsize our bloated and inefficient public sector remains to be seen.”

    There’s the beauty of the federalist ‘laboratory of democracy’ model. Looking at the state-reform refocus of many of the current (and even recent) governors involved in the 2016 campaign, it would make for an interesting study a few years down the line to model the reformist governing strategies of the those involved as such (before and after the campaign, especially since Walker’s out and it appears unlike that, for example, Christie, Jindal, or Kasich will be the nominee).

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