A Grammar of American Politics: The National Government

By Wilfred E. Binkley; Malcolm C. Moos | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIX
FEDERAL PERSONNEL AND THE MERIT SYSTEM

WHETHER or not we approve, we are forced to accept the fact that government is big business and an inescapable part of our national life. The multiplication of services has progressed rapidly in the past quarter century and the addition of new services has been accompanied by a steady increase in personnel. Within twenty years --1928 to 1948--the number of civilian employees in the Federal government jumped from 570,000 to 2,043,000. By August of 1948, the Post Office employees alone accounted for 514,020, approximately one-fourth of the Federal government's payroll.

As in any business enterprise with over two million employees, the personnel policies of government are matters of momentous consequence. Essentially, the personnel problems of large-scale organizations whether private or public are the same. Chief among them are developing policies, methods, procedures, and attractions applicable to the personnel of the organization and securing some degree of uniformity of policies and practices throughout the organization. The government must devise recruitment programs, incentives, promotional policies, compensation scales, separation policies, retirement provisions, and look after many other important details in mobilizing and managing the service which executes its functions. In broad measure, the task of government as outlined in the lofty objectives set by the Hoover Commission is the establishment of a career service which "attracts and holds men and women of the highest intelligence and whose competence is commensurate with the needs of our government."

For a variety of reasons which we shall presently examine, the idea of a carefully regulated personnel program for employees of the government had a hard time gaining traction. That an enterprise as important and as large as government should stumble along without adequate provision for building a sound career service based upon the objectives mentioned above seems incredible, but for a long time it did. The quality of

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