Academic journal article Journal of Social Welfare and Management

Patronage and Its Impact on Policy Making Process and Administration of Government Agencies in the U.S

Academic journal article Journal of Social Welfare and Management

Patronage and Its Impact on Policy Making Process and Administration of Government Agencies in the U.S

Article excerpt


The awarding of government jobs, appointments, and other considerations on the basis of political ties or favors is known as patronage-that is, a patron or official sponsor arranged it. For many Americans "patronage" is an outdated term that conjures up image of Andrew Jackson, Tammany hall and machine politics. [1] Through the readings of the concept of patronage, it can be noticed that the American society has often been characterized by concepts that strongly support the element of personalism, such as, patron-client relationships, influence and connection, favoritism, etc. The use of these concepts is supported by both the political and the social systems which indicate that this is the way American society functions. In many respects the politics of the U.S. confirm this picture. The political system formerly was characterized as personalized competition among political leaders at both the national and local levels and by the use of coercion, money and patronage to win election. Nowadays, new developments in technology and the economy as well as growing social differentiation have changed this pattern of politics in the U.S. However, patronage is still the primary tool or weapon that political leaders use to win elections and to ensure that their policies will be carried out. Patronage always has been considered essential for politicians and executives at all levels in government to increase their power and to control the bureaucracy.

Patronage is not restricted to job appointments; there are many kinds of patronages that can be used by executives to achieve their goals. According to Shafritz (1988), "patronage is the power of elected/ appointed officials to make partisan appointments to office or to confer contracts, honors or other benefits on their political supporters".[2] Sorauf (1960) provided an interesting definition of patronage stating that, "patronage is best thought of as an incentive systema political currency with which to purchase political activity and political responses".[3] Besides, Tolchin (1971:6) defined patronage as "the allocation of the discretionary favor of government in exchange for political support".[4]

Based on the above, patronage includes a vast range of favors awarded by government officials whose increased spending has brought increased opportunities to political supporters e.g. political supporters receive construction contracts, banking and insurance funds and special treatment by the agencies of the government. In addition, patronage helps bring to local areas dams, post office buildings and similar programmes that make elected officials look good to their constituents. Through these favors, political leaders win the loyalty of those beneath them, make themselves look good in the eyes of their constituents and more importantly strengthen their political futures.

Historical perspective

Patronage is an old phenomenon which can be traced back to the Colonial period. During that period, public employees were drawn from the privileged classes and from those who had wealth and influence wealth and influence. In this context, the servants and African slaves did what is now called public works. From 1789 to 1829, federal positions were filled with what Mosher (1982:80) called "gentlemen' Public employees were gentlemen from upper levels of society and generally persons favorable to the Federalist cause.[5] Fitness of character was used as the criterion to select people of good family background, education, honor and loyalty to the new government. Lower-level clerk positions were filled by persons with an upper-middle-class background who were rotated in and out of government with each election.

During this period, there was neither a clear legislation dealing with appointments, examinations, promotions, nor any other aspects of a personnel system except the pay system for clerks and officers. The federal service was made up of stable, long tenured officials who were usually elitist in character and exceptionally free of corruption. …

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