Lesson Objectives:- The Government Policies and Supporting Positions book
- The Spoils System and the Merit System
- The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978
- Federal Employees and Political Campaigns
The Plum Book, as it is called, is the Government Policy and Supporting Positions book that is published after each presidential election. It lists around 10,000 civil service support and leadership positions that are filled by noncompetitive appointment.
It is true aristocracy at work when the president fills these political appointments. Since they are often used to pay off political debts, these jobs are temporary positions that the person may not even have the background to do.
An attempt to fire a civil servant will get tied up in an appeal that could take months and even years. It could last longer than the appointee's time as head of the bureaucracy. This system is designed so that appointees really do not have the ability to make any sweeping changes in the little time they are there.
When Andrew Jackson entered office, he found all of the appointed officials hostile towards him and the Democratic party. Those officials had been appointed before he took office, so they were not loyal to him. His solution was to fire them all and that started the tradition of the Spoils System, the awarding of government jobs to political supporters and friends.
As the bureaucracy grew and the spoils system became more corrupt, calls for a new civil service system grew louder. The Merit System was adopted in 1883, and requires that the selection, retention, and promotion of government employees be on the basis of competitive examinations.
The Civil Service Reform Act of 1883, also known as the Pendleton Act, established the Merit System of federal government employment and created the Civil Service Commission to administer the personnel service.
The Civil Service Commission was abolished in 1978 by the Civil Service Reform Act. Two new federal agencies were formed: the Office of Personnel Management was put in place to recruit and hire qualified individuals to career positions, while the Merit Systems Protection Board was created to oversee promotions, employees' rights, and other matters of employment.
When Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected, he put together the New Deal which brought with it many new government agencies that needed to be staffed. The civil servants put into these positions felt beholden to the Democratic party and as a result, heavily supported Democratic campaign efforts.
That is why the Hatch Act was put into place. It prohibited federal employees from participating in the management of campaigns. Also, federal authority was not allowed to be used to influence nominations, and federal employees could not be forced to make contributions.
The laws have eased up over the years. The Federal Employees Political Activities Act of 1993 modified the Hatch Act to allow federal employees to run for office and participate in registration drives as long as they are not on duty or on federal property. They can make contributions and participate in campaigns for candidates they support.