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Thursday, January 27, 2005


The Washington Post reports about proposed changes the Bush administration is making to the civil service system of federal government work. Under the guise of "reform," this is a naked power grab by the White House, not only on behalf of itself but on behalf of future Presidents. And lest anyone think that I'm only angry about this because I'm ready to assume the absolute worst about the Bush administration and their every initiative at every turn... the effects of a lot of these changes would stretch far beyond his administration and into Republican and Democratic administrations alike.

How do we know? Because we've been here before.

Andrew Jackson once said "To the victor, goes the spoils." And, in so many words, that was the way it was; patronage was the default way of filling most government jobs.

But in the late 19th Century, our nation decided there was a better way. And that was that - until recently.

The incentive for talented people to take a government job, already limited by lower pay scales than you would find in the private sector, would essentially disappear if the corporate model supplanted the civil service model in government. If you think that government work only attracts people who can't cut it in the private sector now, just wait until these changes are implemented on a grand scale and see what you get. And these aren't all DMV clerks - the first agencies to be most effected by these dubious notions are people charged with keeping us secure from terror among other things. The temptation for an incoming administration to install one's own party hacks and yes-men in key positions would just be too great, especially if that should become an accepted practice again.

Institutional memory would be strongly undermined and high turnover would become the norm further and further down the organizational chart, and while that's fine if you're a fast food operation, it's not what I want to see in an organization placed in charge of keeping America safe. They claim procedures protecting whistleblowers in federal agencies won't be gutted, but if you give politicans and their political appointees a freer hand to go after employees who bring unpleasant facts to light - and let's face it, that's exactly what is going to happen if you give these people control over who gets raises, promotions, and other goodies and who doesn't - it's going to be easier for them, whether Republican or Democrat, to cover up their shenanigans.

There's a certain appropriateness to a President that owes absolutely everything he's ever gotten to being well-connected changing the rules of government to favor the politically well-connected. But the rest of us should know better.


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