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FOURTEENTH ANNUAL REPORT
UNITED STATES CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION.
WASHINGTON, D.C., December 31, 1897. Sir: The Commission has the honor to submit the following report for the fiscal year ended June 30, 1897:
It seems appropriate at this time to review briefly the causes which led to the enactment of the law of 1883, known as the civil-service act, the evils which it was intended to remedy, the scope which it was designed to have, and the results which have followed the extension of the classification and the execution of the law in its other features dur. ing the nearly fifteen years in which it has been in operation.
For the first forty years from the organization of our Government, administrative practice with regard to the civil service seemed to conform to the intention of the founders. This intention was declared to be that nonpolitical offices and those not involving the exercise of political discretion should be filled without regard to personal or politi. cal favor, and that tenure should be determined solely by continued faithful and efficient service. This practice was not immediately changed, even upon the passage of the four-year tenure act of 1820, but the "spoils system,” as it was officially described as early as 1835, was gradually introduced and extended until it permeated the entire civil service of the country, and, in the opinion of leading statesmen, threatened to completely change the form of government. The opinion of these statesmen, expressed at various times before the act of 1883 was passed, and the declarations of those who have since had actual administrative experience with it in offices where it has been in operation, are entitled to the greatest consideration. At the conclusion of this report, therefore, may be found (1) quotations which the Commission bas compiled from official documents, covering the period from about 1820 to 1883; (2) extracts from debates in Congress at the time of the passage of the civil-service law, showing the intention of Congress in its enactment; (3) quotations from messages of Presidents and from reports of heads of departments, showing the results accomplis bed by the law, and (4) a table showing in detail the extensions of the classified service since the enactment of the civil-service law.
The advocates of the civil-service law claimed that many benefits would result to the public service from its enactment. It was confidently claimed that the law would check extravagance by decreasing the number of unnecessary positions in the public service; that by increasing the efficiency of employees actually needed it would tend to decrease expenditures for salaries and in other directions, and that, in addition, it would afford relief to public officials from the importunities of applicants and others for positions.
In the debate on the civil-service bill in the United States Senate in 1883, Senator Pendleton said:
I repeat, Mr. President, that the civil service is inefficient, expensive, and extravagant, and that it is in many instances corrupt. Is it necessary for me to prove the facts which are so patent that even the blind must see and the deaf must hear!
Senator Beck said: Secretaries have said officially to Congressional committees that they are obliged to take people they do not want; that they have to supply places to people for whom they have no use; and one Secretary came before a conmittee at the last session and said he was obliged to keep seventeen persons in his Department whom he did not want, when one man would do the work better than the seventeen; and still such places are kept for political purposes.
Senator Hawley remarked on the same subject: I propose to show that we have a reasonable, simple, practical bill, open to no constitutional objection, not in any sense experimental, based upon absolutely conclusive experience, capable of being easily and economically executed, that will vastly improve the whole civil service of the country.
Here, on the one hand, were statements of existing evils which were conceded to be true, and, on the other hand, a promised improvement by the enactment of the civil-service law.
After an experience of nearly fifteen years it can be stated that the hopes of the advocates of the civil-service law have been largely realized. In practice, the law has proved to be a constantly exerted and effective force in the direction of economy. The great actual saving in the plan devised by the civil service act for selecting persons for employment can be appreciated only by a comparison with the methods of selection that prevailed before the commission was established, when persons were often appointed to the service and then removed to make room for others whose chief recommendation was that at the time of appointment they happened to have greater political influence. This was one of the principal causes of the sweeping changes under the patronage system, even where one Administration succeeded another without change of politics. An investigation at the New York custom-house showed that during the five years preceding the classification of that office, under successive collectors belonging to the same political party, there were 1,678 removals. For the period since the complete classification of that office, or for the two years ended June
30, 1897, there were but 101 removals and 60 resignations. Nor were these conditions confined to a single office or a single branch of the service. In the entire civil service, during the last five years, at least 75 per cent of those who occupied unclassified or other positions exempt from examination were removed from the service, while during the same period in the classified competitive service not more than 8 per cent of separations occurred, not including necessary reductions in the force. Experience has shown that frequent changes lessen the general efficiency of any service. The stability in positions filled by competitive examination has given increased efficiency, while the constant changes in the unclassified and excepted positions have been destructive of efficient work. Considering the few changes in the service under the merit system and the wholesale removals under the patronage system, the economy and efficiency of the one stand in striking contrast to the extravagance and inefficiency of the other.
As the Commission stated in its last report, the classified positions having been withdrawn from political control, there is now no object in increasing their number by legislation except to meet the requirements of the service. This condition is resulting in a large direct saving to the public treasury. That the maintenance of the Commission is directly in the interest of economy is clearly shown by the statistics prepared last year in connection with the Government service in Washington, D. C. In these statistics the growth of the classified positions was compared with the growth of the unclassified positions, and it appeared that since 1883 (the year of the organization of the commission) the unclassified positions, which have been subject to political control, have increased in number 37 per cent and in cost 43 per cent, while the classified positions subject to examinations have remained at a standstill, practically the only increases in their number having been made by the extensions of the rules to cover positions previously unclassified. Had the classified positions increased in the same proportion as the unclassified positions increased up to the time of their classification, an extra yearly expenditure for additional salaries in Washington alone of more than $3,000,000, or twenty times the cost of the mainteDance of the commission, would be required.
A table recently prepared at the Commission from the official registers shows the growth in the clerical positions in Washington from 1873 to 1883 and from 1883 to 1896. From 1873 to 1883, covering the ten years immediately preceding the enactment of the civil-service law, the number of clerks in the seven Executive Departments and the Department of Agriculture increased from less than 3,300 to 5,523, which was an increase of more than 2,200, or 66 per cent; while from 1883 to 1896, or during thirteen years of the merit system, the number of classified clerks in the eight Executive Departments decreased from 5,523 to 5,312, a reduction of 211, or over 3 per cent. These figures show the great saving in the salaries of clerks that is being effected by the appli. cation of the civil-service rules to the departments in Washington.