Why We Need a New Pendleton Act
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  • qet

    Good luck with that. Consider this from 2012, from some outfit called AmericanProgress.org:

    “The federal government made little progress in 2010 in ensuring its workforce reflects the gender, ethnic, and racial diversity of the United States’s civilian labor force, according to a just-released government report.”

    For today’s progressives, presumptive heirs to the ones who gave us the original Pendleton Act, the overriding goal is not what it was then, what Fukuyama calls for now. And, as if this weren’t enough, today’s progressives are busy inflicting a cognitive dissonance on themselves and the rest of us:

    “As we argued in our 2011 report—A Better, More Diverse Senior Executive Service in 2050—the federal government should strive to be more representative of the increasingly diverse society it serves, and it should do so by recruiting, hiring, and retaining the country’s best talent.”

    So, we are to have it all. Not only need we not sacrifice talent on the altar of diversity, in fact the road to diversity is paved with talent!

    Welcome to America 2013.

  • Anthony

    “Americans love to argue obsessively about the size of government, and in the process never come to grips with the question of government’s quality…. However, we Americans are not even close to opening a national conversation on what a good civil service should look like.” I think for many the paradox of Democracy encapsulated in the idea of free and fair competition (meritocracy) weighs against the civil service outcomes essay infers. That is, in case of popular U.S. government (civil service) a leveling influence may be more rigorous – unions, rules and regulations, etc. Such influence would yet constrain new Pendleton Act as institutional defenses arrive. Government ( U.S.popular) has difficulty maintaining “an express insistence upon quality and distinction” (meritocracy).

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  • Anthony

    You engage in sweeping generalizations could you please provide quantifiable data to support your qualitative categorizations/assertions.

    • Anthony

      Please disregard the post has been removed regarding sweeping generalizations.

  • shimrod

    “Americans love to argue obsessively about the size of government, and in the process never come to grips with the question of government’s quality…. However, we Americans are not even close to opening a national conversation on what a good civil service should look like.”

    You haven’t been paying attention. Many Americans are quite sure any good civil service must be substantially smaller than the one we have now. That’s the exact point of arguing for smaller government.

  • dustydog

    A first start would be a Fraud, Waste and Abuse hotline. Most department require any allegation of fraud, waste or abuse to be made formally, signed, with support – retaliation guaranteed. Lose you job, maybe go to jail for leaking.

    The legal exception is that federal employees can report directly to Congress. If there were a congressman brave enough to publish on his website all allegations made by federal employees, protecting their confidentiality, that would be a good start.

  • Grant Bronson

    The author does not appear to have a very strong grasp of federal employment.

    While job security exists, employees are not sacrificing much, if anything, in the way of salary. On the contrary, Federal Employees get enviable salaries (averaging over $80,000 per year across the government), enviable work hours (the vast majority being covered under Title 5, which technically mandates overtime for hours worked over 40 per week), enviable vacation time (13 days per year for the first 3 years, 19 for the next 12, and 26 thereafter, with the ability to carry 20 days over per year), enviable sick leave (13 days per year with unlimited carry over, on top of vacation), a more generous FMLA than what the private sector gets, more standard vacation time, perks like payment for Metro/Subway cards, gov’t smartphones and computers, a solid pension plan (the “newer” plan being sustainable and not nearly as generous as state and municipal level plans, effectively capped in the mid 30% of “high 3” salary, but still, it’s a pension), a 401K substitute with up to 5% matching on top of that, and health care benefits that are on par with the private sector. Law Enforcement does even better, with FLSA overtime, Title 5 pay premiums that bump base pay 10 to 25% or more, and more generous retirements that are triggered in their 50’s.

    The issue with hiring is not the attractiveness of the jobs. It’s the need to get initial clearance for some jobs, and the fact that many agencies and managers circumvent the civil service system to engage in politicized or nepotistic hiring.

    Also there is significant systemic pressure to value military status and diversity over all else. More than that, the broken EEO system (far worse than the private sector deals with) finds racism in any action, while the Merit System Protection Board has been on a partisan rampage to overturn discharges of employees on technicallities that had never been applied prior to this president. Similarly, the Federal Labor Relations Board has acted to expand the power of federal union far beyond what was contemplated by the statute and into something far closer to private sector unions. Meanwhile, the President has gutted the strength of the Inspector Generals, while the Office of Personnel Management has been made into an arm of the federal unions rather than a system to ensure the efficient functioning of government.

    The combination of corrupt leadership in the agencies themselves, and of course the administration, along with political zeolots filling and running the agencies that monitor the civil service system is what is destroying government functioning. Not so much the basic system itself, and not at all the compensation given to employees.

    • Jatt

      You seem to be boiling down the ‘attractiveness’ a job to only compensation. Everything else you mentioned impacts how attractive a job is, which was the author’s point. Jobs aren’t as attractive when employers give a mindless preference to vets, or require endless background checks or security clearances.

  • Go find the BBC “Yes! Minister” sit-com from the early 80s. It still applies.

    Bureaucracy is bureaucracy. The incentives in a government systems are inherently perverse. The real answer is to severely limit and curtail what government gets to do.

  • Sean

    I was surprised that this article failed to mention one glaring fact: the federal civil service is virtually an organ of the Democrat Party. As demonstrated by the IRS and numerous recent scandals where the federal bureaucracy has acted to attack Obama’s enemies, as well as during the Bush administration, when the bureaucray actively undermined the executive branch.

    The calls to increase “diversity” are transparently demands for increased Democrat control of the federal civil service.

  • MarkJ

    “What the contemporary civil service fails to do is to attract smart, highly qualified young people out of elite universities in the manner of the classic French, German, or British services.”

    Yeah, just what we all need: a new mandarin class. Gee, they could even wear special hat-pins showing their ranks in the pecking order.

    Really, Francis Fukuyama, is this the best idea you’ve got?

  • Skip

    Many years ago when I was interviewing for jobs I interviewed with a Federal agency. The selling point for the job was the great retirement benefits. As an ambitious 20 year old I found that an odd thing to promote and went elsewhere. The Federal jobs seem to attract time servers.

  • Gilligan

    A new Pendelton Act? I think you are going in the wrong direction. What we need is more spoils system and less civil service.

    I would start right now by moving the level of political appointees down one level everywhere in the Federal Government. That would create hundreds, if not thousands, of new presidential appointments. Democrats will go for that because they love them some political favors to hand out. Republicans will go for it because it is just replacing one Democrat with another Democrat so who cares right now but if Republicans ever win the White House again there will be political favors for them to hand out and there will be less chance of the civil service insurrection that went on during all eight years of George Bush’s presidency.

    As for the career civil servants who will be replaced by political appointees? They have no advocates. Democrats crave the political favors they can bestow more than they respect the loyalty of the long serving Democrats in government jobs and Republicans return the hate that has been demonstrated by leaks and obstruction in the Bush Administration and the willing law breaking of the IRS in this administration.

    Politics is the art of the possible. This is possible. A competent and apolitical mandrinate of the best and brightest in civil service is not.

  • Francis, I just finished your great book “The Origins of Political Order” which gives me the background to understand the importance of a strong state with a professional bureaucracy with merit-based incentives. The book places the healthcare.gov rollout in a new light I wouldn’t thought of before. I’m guessing you believe the US Government (State) is experiencing political decay because it isn’t an effective counterbalance to special interest groups with huge sums to spend at election time. The botched rollout of healthcare.gov is just a symptom of that decay that must be addressed soon.

    Loved your book because I realized how little I actually understood about politics, political actors and statecraft. Thank you.

    PS when will volume 2 be available on Audible.com?

  • “Getting the healthcare insurance web site up and running was probably one of the most difficult software integration processes ever attempted, something much larger than the task of, say, integrating the software on a new commercial airliner.”

    This is so far from true it’s not funny. Aside from all the fluff about how wonderful the PPACA is, the non-functional heart of the website consists of a collecting 4 chunks of information, squirting that to the “hundreds of suppliers”, and then displaying what they send back, along with a “pick me, pick me” option.

    That’s it. Anything more is bad design. To get a quote, all that is needed is the “customers” age, sex, ZIP, and smoker/nonsmoker. Send that to the insurers who are selling in that ZIP. They send back a quote and link to THEIR webserver where the policy details are housed. For the subsidy info, all you need is to display a table (based on the ZIP) that has income on one axis, dependents on the other axis, and a $$$ where they meet. (See your tax tables in the 1040-EZ for an example.)

    Now, I agree that the civil service stuff needs to be reformed, but as long as we insist on thinking things are more complex than they actually are, little real progress will be made. Either with the website, or with reform.

  • JamesH

    The case you attempt to make is that the Healthcare.com debacle is an example of how government is unable to make anything work. The reality is no one in government engineered this project. It was designed by software contractors who do this for a living. But that does not explain the failure either. You refer to the problem, but only in passing. The Administration was in a hurry to get out a product which it knew was not ready for use.

    The Administration was under self-imposed and Congressional-imposed deadlines. I am not excusing the Administration. The honorable course of action would have been to admit two months before roll-out that the website was not fully ready and then release it in increments. This too would have brought with it criticism, but not nearly as much as the misrepresentation of reality did.

    It had nothing to do with the other things you mention like the federal government hiring disabled veterans. What kind of red herring is that? I am very surprised that a person of your reputation and intellect would throw out that kind of silliness. I would expect something like that from Cal Thomas or Jonah Goldberg. Again, civil servants did not design this product. Some oversaw the process. But just like the cherry-picking of CIA intelligence by a previous administration, cherry-picking of project milestones by this administration point to a common problem: the unwillingness of elected leaders to admit defeat.

    In point of fact, there are all kinds of very useful federal government websites. I would refer anyone to http://www.census.gov, http://www.bls.gov, http://www.bea.gov, http://www.noaa.gov. There are many more. I use them. They work well. Who designed them?

    Your piece fails to make your point because you are making the wrong point. Reforming Civil Service (and do not forget keeping those icky disabled vets out). A hurried product is a hurried product. But that has nothing remotely to do with what you say it has to do with.

  • B-Seattle

    As a recently graduated MPA and recent government employee, this article strikes pretty close to the truth.

  • Case Marsh

    A long time ago in response to calls for smaller government, I started touting, “It’s wrong to just demand smaller government. What we should be demanding is better government. What’s important is the quality, not the size. And for whatever it’s worth, I’ll bet that better government ends up being smaller government.”

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