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J. D. Cox, Secretary of the Interior, 1869:
Luring Mr. Johnson’s Administration a condition of things existed which rivals the most corrupt era that can be found in the history of any nation. Men were known to offer $5,000 for the influence which might secure an appointment to a gauger's situation in the revenue service; there $1,500 was the limit of the pay that could be honestly earned, and when it was morally certain that the advent of a new Administration would terminate the employment within a year. This is simply a type of similar transactions extending through many grades of the public service. EXTRACTS FROM DEBATES IN CONGRESS AT TIME OF PASSAGE
OF THE LAW SHOWING ABUSES TO BE REMEDIED. Senator Maxey:
We have heard all over the country and we have heard in the Senate from both sides of the Chamber that there have been peculating jobs in every department of this Government; peculations in the Indian Bureau, in the War Department, in the Treasury Department, in the internal revenue, in whisky rings; frauds upon the Pension Bureau, frauds in the Post-Office Department, frauds everywhere. We have heard also in the country and here in the Senate that under the pretext of voluntary donations for political purposes assessments have been made and enforced from the hard earnings of the more humble employees of the Government, men and women, and that these contributions have been wrung from them. We have heard that these offices, instead of being filled by competent men by reason of their qualifications, by reason of their fitness for the positions to which they are appointed, have been appointed by men in high political positions, exercising and demanding influence over the appointing power, who have come to be known as boss rulers. All this we have heard; and we have heard in the strong language of the Senator from Ohio (Senator Pendleton) that this demoralization has permeated every office in the country, permeated all over the country, demoralizing all the civil service, and unless this demoralization is killed it will kill the Republic. I agree with him.
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 committee 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 persons are kept for political purposes.
These poor, subordinate clerks in the departments have never been important political factors, notwithstanding all the fuss made about them. The men in the great custom-houses at New York and elsewhere, the men in the internal-revenue department, the men all over the country in the post-offices, are the principal political emissaries.
The number of storekeepers and gaugers and special deputies and deputy collectors is very great and their function is very important. They come into immediate contact with the people in the execution of the laws. Many of them in the country where I come from are ignorant of their duties, and are corruptly minded not to properly perform them, and there is more need of reform in that part of the service, I beg leave to say to the Senate, than there is in any other portion of the inferior offices of the United States.
I repeat, Mr. President, that the civil service is inefficient, expensive, and extrav. agant, and that it is in many instances corrupt. Is it necessary for me to prove facts which are so patent that even the blind must see and the deaf must hear!
Mr. President, how can you expect purity, economy, efficiency to be found any. where in the service of the Government if the report made by this committee to the Senate has even the semblance of truth? If the civil service of the country is to be filled up with superfluous persons, if salaries are to be increased in order that assessments may be paid, if Members of Congress having friends or partisan supporters are to be able to make places for them in public employment, how can yon expect Senators and Representatives to be economical and careful in the administration of the public money?
When I entered the Senate I became chairman of the Committee to Examine the Several Branches of the Civil Service, and for two years I was engaged with the rest of that committee in taking testimony upon the subject of civil-service reform. That very great evils exist, there can be no sort of question-evils so monstrous, so deadly in their effects, that men of all political parties have come to the conclusion that some remedy must be applied.
That evils exist there can be no sort of question. Money has become the great factor in the politics of the United States.
To-day in the city of Washington the officials of this Government who have been bere for twenty years and more have come to believe that the offices are their property and not the property of the people, and a plain man, though of the sovereign people, can not transact business in the departments unless chaperoned by a United States Senator or a Member of Congress in order to command attention.
Senator Bayard :
No man obtained an office except he was a violent partisan, and the office was given to him as a reward for party services; and so things went on until the offices generally were filled under that system, which was false and dangerous in the extreme—a system which, as my friend from Ohio said, is absolutely fatal to the integrity of republican institutions, I care not what party or under what name it may be organized and carried on.
Patronage may not be a dangerous power when it is properly used by those to whom it is intrusted by the Constitution if they are held to strict accountability for its exercise, but when it is nsurped by those upon whom such responsibility can only be indirectly fixed, it is as dangerous to the Republie as any form of corruption that can be named.
I am thoroughly convinced that one of the worst and most inveterate enemies to civil-service reform to be found in our political system is the influence of patronage. It means only this when a Senator employs it: The power of money to be used for personal ends in procuring and retaining high office in the hands of legislators. This evil has invaded every department of the Government; but its worst effects are felt in Congress when the legislator condescends to bargain for personal support and the other party to the agreement demands office as the price of that support.
When a Senator claims that he has the right to bestow, or to demand the bestowal of, an office upon his friend as so much patronage belonging to him, he claims the right to take the money of the people, contributed for the benefit of the country, and devote it to his own personal service. That is, in effect, an unlawful conversion of public money to private use. A Senator has as much right to a percentage of the salary of his appointee as he has to purchase with an appointment the loyalty of the appointee to his personal fortunes in his political enterprises.
There are hundreds of men and women in this town in the different departments who are supernumeraries, and who are retained in their places because the chiefs of divisions and of bureaus do not find themselves at liberty to disappoint their personal friends or their political friends by removing them.
EXTRACTS FROM REPORT (1874) OF CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION*
APPOINTED UNDER PRESIDENT GRANT'S ADMINISTRATION.
When, for example, in 1868 Congress sought information of the abuses in the departments, a Member declared in a speech in the House that "nothing impressed me more with the rottenness and corruption of our present want of system than the tears of those old and faithful servants who begged that they might not be placed on record as witnesses of the faithlessness of their associates and that it inight not be known that they had been called as witnesses. Nothing but the assurance of secrecy could procure us evidence of how the people were being plundered.”
-and to the facilities afforded for foisting upon the civil service so many brokendown knights of politics, so many servile favorites of great politicians, so many fortunate objects of official sympathy--are due tho disgraceful facts that, by many at least, the civil service of the nation was regarded more as an asylum for imbeciles and a playground for favorites than as an honorable field of duty and ambition.
Outside the great departments and offices, want of integrity might have been the more general evil, but within them the Administration suffered much more from want of capacity. It would have been too disreputable to commend a person known to be dishonest; but persons of influence systematically foisted their incompetent and unfortunate relatives and favorites upon the public service. Pressure, menace, selfish influence, and sympathy were used to overcome the scruples of a reluctant officer and to gain a Government salary for an unsuccessful cousin or an unemployed friend. It needs but little experience in otficial circles to learn how many people tremble at the bare suggestion of an economical measure for weeding out incompetents.
Large as was the majority of persons of intelligence and capacity in the clerical service, there can be no doubt that the spoils system was tending more and more to convert the departments into something like asylums for incompetents. Overwhelming evidence might be quoterl, but a few sentences from the mass must suffice. A report of a committee of the Thirty-ninth Congress says that “of the ofticers employed in the New York custom-louse it is believed a majority of them have no special qualifications for their places." In 1867 the chairman of an investigating committee declared in the Ilouse, as the result of his inquiry, that “as a general rule those who for some defect or incorrect habit in mind or character have been unable to succeed in the open competition of business have been forced by their relatives or political friends upon the public service."
* Dorman B. Eaton, chairman, Samuel Shellabarger, Dawson A. Walker, E. B. Elliott, Joseph H. "Blackfan, and David C. Cox.
INTENTION OF THE LAW. APPLICATION OF LAW AND RULES TO BE EXTENDED UNTIL THEY
INCLUDE THE ENTIRE CIVIL SERVICE OF THE COUNTRY. President Grant's message, December 2, 1872:
An earnest desire has been felt to correct abuses which have grown up in the ciril service of the country through the defective method of making appointments to oftice. Heretofore Federal offices have been regarded too much as the reward of political services.
Committee report accompanying the civil-service act, explaining the scope of the law:
But the subordinates in the Executive Departments, whose duty is the same under erery Administration, should be selected with sole reference to their character and their capacity for doing the public work. This latter class includes nearly all the vast number of appointed officials who carry into effect the orders of the Executire or heads of Departments, whether in Washington or elsewhere.
Senator Hawley :
I propose to show that we have hero a reasonable, simple, practical bill, open to no constitutional objection, not in any sense experimental, based upon absolute conclusive experience, capable of being easily and economically executed, that will vastly improve the whole civil service of the country.
Next, the bill cominends itself to my judgment because it proceeds with a statesmanlike caution in making the necessary experiment and proceeding from step to step. It is applicable to only a few of the great public offices in the country besides the seven Departments existing in the city of Washington. It applies, I think, to about thirty offices only out of Washington and to the Departments here, and it permits the President, if he sees fit, to extend gradually, as experience shall warrant, there being full opportunity for the legislative power to amend or supply any defects in this bill hereafter, until finally, if it is found expedient, it shall embrace the entire civil serrice of the country so far as it can be properly applied.
It can no longer be that 200,000 officeholders can be appointed in the methods that were fit and proper for the appointment of 1,000. Two hundred thousand in the very near future are to be appointed to administer the offices of this Government froin Maine to the Gulf, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, over an area thirty times as great as that for which the system itself was created; for administering a Gov. ernment the yearly receipts and expenditures of which are $300,000,000, to be collected from points a thousand miles from the eye of appointing power here, when in the beginning it was only to disburse three millions and a half among officeholders in the old thirteen States along the line of the Atlantic coast.
I want to say that I am for this bill not so much for what it contains as for its promise of good things in the future. It is but an entering wedge, I hope, to break down the most iniquitous system which has existed in this country for the last forty years, having as its motto “To the victors belong the spoils.” The public sentiment is now drifting in the right direction, and I am willing to give my support, and that fairly and fully, to this entering wedge, to this beginning of reform throughout the civil service of this country.
APPLICATION OF THE LAW NOT CONFINED TO LOWER GRADE
OF OFFICES. President Arthur's message, December 4, 1882:
Since these suggestions were submitted for your consideration there has been no legislation upon the subject to which they relate; but there has meanwhile been an increase in the public interest in that subject; and the people of the country, apparently without distinction of party, have in various ways and upon frequent occasions given expression to their earnest wish for prompt and definite action. In my judgment such action should no longer be postponed.
In the early years of the administration of the Government the personal direction of appointments to the civil service may not have been an irksome task for the Executive; but now that the burden has increased fully a hundredfold, it has become greater than he ought to bear, and it necessarily diverts his time and attention from the proper discharge of other duties no less delicate and responsible, and which, in the very nature of things, can not be delegated to other hands.
While neither that bill nor any other prominent scheme for improving the civil service concerns the higher grade of officials who are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, I feel bound to correct a prevalent misapprehension as to the frequency with which the present Executive has displaced the incumbent of an office and appointed another in his stead.
Senator Bayard :
There was an objection urged by the Senator from Georgia that it opened for compietition none but the lowest grade of office. That, I understand, has been entirely removed by an amendment accepted by the Senator from Ohio in charge of the bill, and now ingrafted upon it, so that any vacancy that occurs, high or low, is open to the newcomer just as much as it has been to a man now in office.
The proposition was in the first place that none but the lowest grade of office should be open to competition. That I say is now removed. If it ever existed, it certainly is now removed and all ofices of the various classes referred to by the bill are open to competiton, no matter what may be their grade.
I am not now speaking of elective offices; I am speaking of those offices by appointment which we seek to control.
LAW INTENDED TO PLACE THE CIVIL SERVICE ON A NON
PARTISAN BASIS. Senator Allison :
The amendment which I propose requires the head of the Department making these appointments to take the highest number, whatever it may be. The man who has shown himself eminently qualified in every way for the position he seeks shall have that position, without reference to what his party affiliations may be. Senator Hoar:
If we can put upon the statute a declaration of the American Congress, in obedience to the public voice, that original appointments to the public service shall hereafter be made on the basis of fitness and merit solely, and that the civil service of the country shall no longer be a partisan weapon, I do not believe that any Executive whom the American people will be likely soon to elect will disregard that expression