Goals of This Exercise
- Illustrate the historical decline of presidential control over executive branch appointments and personnel.
- Demonstrate how rule and procedural changes in executive branch hiring decisions caused this loss of control over time.
- Examine how a decline in presidential control in executive hiring might affect presidential control over bureaucracy.
Political Appointment versus Merit Selection in the Executive Branch
- Employees selected based on politics and party loyalty
- Politically associated with president
- Easily controlled by president
- The spoils system
- Employees selected based on skills and qualifications
- Take civil service exam
- Immune or insulated from political control
- Civil service (merit system)
Examining the Rationality Principle
The Rationality Principle: all political behavior has a purpose. All political actors engage in instrumental acts designed to further their individual goals.
- The goals of bureaucrats and the president differ in important respects.
- Bureaucrats seek to further the mission of their agency and to maximize its budget.
- For the president, the task of democratic control of the bureaucracy is to impose his or her goals on the bureaucracy to the greatest extent possible.
- The conflict among these goals leads to a struggle over autonomy between the president and his or her political appointees, on the one hand, and merit-protected bureaucrats, on the other hand.
Examining the Policy Principle
The Policy Principle: political outcomes are the products of individual preferences and institutional procedures.
- The rules and procedures by which federal employees are selected (i.e., rules promoting a spoils system versus rules promoting a merit system) matter in determining whether the president or the bureaucracy wins in the struggle over autonomy.
- When the president has greater control over selecting bureaucrats, he or she is more likely able to impose his or her preferences over bureaucrats. When bureaucrats owe their position only to their “merit” and are insulated from political pressure, they have greater autonomy to pursue their own goals.
Historical Stages of Appointment
Stage 1: The spoils system was originally instituted as a democratic reform during the Jacksonian era to provide for “rotation in office” that would make national government more representative of the rest of the country.
Stage 2: Nepotism, favoritism, and corruption of the spoils system led to calls for yet more reform. This time reformers wanted to institute a civil service system; although it would make the government less representative, it would also make the government more professional.
Stage 3: The Pendleton Act (1883) instituted a civil service (or merit) system in some national government hiring.
Stage 4: From the late nineteenth century to the 1960s, more and more of national government employees were selected by merit.
Stage 5: Attempts are made to once again gain greater democratic and political control over the federal bureaucracy. After the 1970s new politically-appointed positions were increasingly added to the federal workforce.
Analyzing Executive Appointments
Examining the graph and the various stages (1–5) of appointment politics, answer the following questions:
The Advent of Merit Selection