THE MERIT SYSTEM IN ADMINISTRATION OF RELIEF AND SOCIAL SECURITY
From time to time in the preceding chapters the dangers of political manipulation of social security and relief have been stressed. One of the devices for lessening these dangers is to require administration under the merit system.
Experience, according to our opinion, justifies the conclusion that the efficacy of the merit system depends far more on the integrity and ability of the responsible administrators than upon the precise provisions of the merit system act. History of the merit system reveals poor results under an act hailed on its passage as a model and good results under an old act regarded by many technicians as almost completely outmoded. Although an act that will win the approval of competent technicians unquestionably will facilitate good administration, it cannot guarantee it; it cannot prevent perversion if all key points in the administrative structure are occupied by persons intent on circumventing it.
In some of the states, the state constitution requires the use of the merit system. Where such is the case, the courts have jurisdiction to review the actions of both administrators and legislators and to set aside such actions as are contrary to the state constitution. The national government and most of the states have no such constitutional provisions, and therefore the legislators and the administrators have a free hand.
The terms of the national constitution are such that it is generally held that Congress cannot compel the President to use the merit system. It can authorize him to do so; it can give him all the administrative machinery for doing so and supply the necessary funds, but he has the power to ignore the permissive legislation either in general or in particular cases. The rules and regulations under which the national civil service system works are in the main the rules and regulations which