System used by federal and state governments for hiring and promoting governmental employees to civil service positions on the basis of competence.
The merit system uses educational and occupational qualifications, testing, and job performance as criteria for selecting, hiring, and promoting civil servants. It began in the federal government circa 1883. The merit system was established to improve parts of the governmental work force previously staffed by the political patronage or spoils system, which allowed the political party in power the opportunity to reward party regulars with government positions. The merit system has been adopted by state and local governments as well.