Toward a Merit-Based Civil Service

While the federal bureaucracy grew by leaps and bounds during the twentieth century, it also underwent a very different evolution. Beginning with the Pendleton Act in the 1880s, the bureaucracy shifted away from the spoils system toward a merit system. The distinction between these two forms of bureaucracy is crucial. The evolution toward a civil service in the United States had important functional consequences. Today the United States has a civil service that carefully regulates hiring practices and pay to create an environment in which, it is hoped, the best people to fulfill each civil service responsibility are the same people hired to fill those positions.

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