Civil Service

views updated Jun 27 2018

Civil Service

Common features

Civil service system patterns

Major problem areas

Approaches and trends in writing and research


Civil service is a relatively new term used to describe an old governmental feature that is becoming increasingly important in modern political systems. The phrase was first used in British administration in India and was popularized by Sir Charles Trevelyan a little more than a century ago. When the principle of open competitive examination was introduced in Great Britain in 1854, the phrase “civil service” was also carried over and was applied to the officials serving the state in a professional capacity, except for those in the military and judicial services. Of course, equivalent bodies of officials have served states throughout history, long before the term “civil service” was applied to them.

Civil service is not a precise concept. It is similar to, but not identical in meaning with, other terms, such as public service and public bureaucracy. Although it has the advantage of familiarity, there are several difficulties in its use. Perhaps the chief difficulty is the distinction built into the term between the civil and military segments of the public service. In some governments this dividing line is becoming blurred and the interrelationships between civil and military services are growing more intimate, especially in the newly independent nations.

The definition does place emphasis on the professional character of the service as against work performed for the state on a sporadic, voluntary, or forced basis. As used in Great Britain, and to a certain degree elsewhere, the term “civil service” refers to officials serving the central government or its agencies rather than local units of government. Even when “civil service” is considered to include officials in local units, it is customary to exclude teachers, despite the large number of people engaged in this government-supported profession. The term itself does not specify conditions as to professional preparation, methods of recruitment, social and economic origins, or other crucial matters, but it is now customarily associated with a merit system, as contrasted with a patronage system, and with a service open to all citizens on the basis of talent and proved capacity.

Despite the vagueness in accepted definition and variations in its usage, “civil service” does identify the expanding corps of trained manpower that must be maintained by every modern polity to carry out governmental functions. The trend is world-wide, despite differences in cultural, political, historical, geographic, and other factors, for the scope and range of these governmental functions appear to be increasing. The result is usually described by such terms as “welfare state,” “administrative state,” and “big government.” Inevitably, the civil service plays a crucial role in the operation of modern governmental systems, whether in Western or non-Western states, in countries in the communist or noncommunist blocs, and in developed or developing nations. In all of them, the civil service is the core of modern government, growing in its power position vis-à-vis other political organs and therefore posing grave problems of control and accountability. At the same time that its contributions have become more essential, the question of the proper placement of the civil service in the governmental system has grown more difficult. While the external relationships of the civil service have been changing, its internal characteristics have also been modified in ways that transcend differences in the political systems generally. A consistent trend is that the proportion of the total work force that is encompassed by the civil service has been growing in most countries. Another is that the requirements of the civil service call for the services of a constantly expanding variety of occupational and technical specialists, representing all or most of those available in the society. These developments, in turn, have led to a trend toward professionalization among civil servants that affects their attitudes and behavior in ways that are significant both for the conduct of civil service activities and in the relationships of the civil service with other political groupings.

Common features

Certain requisites can be identified for the establishment and maintenance of any civil service system. Some kind of legal basis for the system must be provided. This may be largely customary and uncodified; it may take the form of ministerial regulations, as in Great Britain; or it may be set forth in considerable detail in a written constitution for the political jurisdiction, as is the case in Michigan and some other American states. More likely, it will have a statutory base, either in an elaborate civil service code, such as has existed in Germany for many years, or in a collection of civil service laws adopted at intervals and probably revealing some internal inconsistencies, as in the national civil service in the United States.

Another common feature is provision for a personnel agency or agencies charged with responsibility for maintenance of the system. The British practice, which has influenced arrangements in many other countries, is to divide this task between the Civil Service Commission, which is concerned solely with the selection of entrants into the service, and the Treasury, which is the central control agency in other personnel matters. Many countries with a British administrative tradition have adopted this bifurcated system, with selection functions assigned to a civil service or public service commission and other personnel functions usually allocated to the home or finance ministry. In the United States, the preference has been to set up a semiautonomous civil service commission with combined responsibility for supervision of all aspects of personnel management, although in recent years there has been some inclination to confine the independent commission to quasi-legislative and quasi-judicial functions and to assign most personnel functions to a staff agency responsible to the chief executive. The Continental tradition has been to avoid a full-fledged central personnel agency and rely upon each ministry or department to carry out its own personnel program within the framework of uniform civil service legislation. However, France abandoned this approach after World War II and created the Direction de la Fonction Publique, or Civil Service Directorate, to initiate reforms in civil service policy and exercise personnel controls over the various ministries. Whether or not there is a central personnel agency for the civil service system as a whole, the primary departments or ministries and their major subdivisions require specialized personnel units.

A developed civil service system calls for the installation of well-established procedures for the conduct of common personnel transactions, such as selection, promotion, compensation, performance evaluation, discipline, and separation. These standardized methods are intended to provide objectivity in the choice of entrants to the civil service from citizens who compete and to provide equity in treatment for those who already belong to the service.

The system must also provide status guaranties and establish canons of conduct for civil servants. Achievement of such qualities as competence and continuity in the civil service rests upon some assurances to the public servant that his status will be protected, provided he observes the standards of conduct that have been set for him. The social position of civil servants varies from country to country. The Continental tradition, as in Germany and France, is for the higher civil servant to consider himself as a representative of the sovereign state and to expect considerable deference and respect. In Great Britain and the United States, there is more of a tendency to regard the official as a servant of the public, with a consequent reluctance to confer special status or privileges. An imbalance in either direction can cause difficulties. In the first case, the civil servant may be tempted to take advantage of the situation by an elaboration of prerogatives and safeguards, which stresses bureaucratic self-interest rather than the public interest. In the second, the prestige of the civil service may be too low to attract sufficient talent.

Finally, the role of the civil service must be defined in the political system generally. The universal expectation is that the civil service should be neutral in the sense that it is loyal to the basic political order in the state but at the same time is amenable to shifts in political leadership from time to time. Devices for trying to achieve this vary a great deal from country to country, but responsiveness by the administrative staff to the directives of political leaders is an objective commonly sought, even among political regimes that differ greatly in other respects.

Civil service system patterns

Modern civil service systems are largely the products of developments in western Europe, with European patterns then being exported to, or copied by, nations in other parts of the world. In turn, European practices can be traced to historical antecedents in medieval and ancient times. China, Egypt, Greece, and Rome have all contributed something to present-day public administration, but Roman law and Roman administrative institutions have exerted by far the greatest influence. The Roman Empire provided legal principles and the rudiments of an administrative structure that have carried over into modern times.

The emergence of the civil service from ancient and medieval antecedents has been accurately described as a gradual transformation of the royal household into the public service. This occurred earliest and progressed furthest in Europe, particularly in Prussia and in France, where absolute monarchies laid the basis for centralized and professionalized bureaucracies. In Prussia, as early as the middle of the seventeenth century, Frederick William, the great elector of Brandenburg, had succeeded in uprooting feudal administration and creating an efficient administrative organization staffed by trained civil servants selected on a competitive basis. The eighteenth-century Prussian civil service is considered to be the first of the modern civil service systems, and the scientific study of government administration received much attention and formed the basis for training officials. In France, a parallel but weaker development of the administration under the monarchy gave way to the French Revolution and the Napoleonic administrative reforms, which replaced the king with the nation and converted the royal service into the public service. The Napoleonic administrative features of rationality, hierarchy, and competence became models for reform in other countries in Europe and later elsewhere. The Prussian and French systems of administration and civil service, despite their differences, can be grouped together as the European pattern, which continues to be one of the strongest and most influential. This pattern emphasizes the role of the civil servant as the agent of the state, the professionalized and career nature of membership in the civil service, the importance of safeguards to civil service status and tenure, and the crucial contribution of the civil service to continuity in the administration of state affairs.

Great Britain developed another influential pattern of civil service. Administrative evolution was slower, however, because political struggles turned more on issues of parliamentary versus royal ascendancy and of safeguarding individual liberties against the claims of political authority. Although the administrative apparatus became increasingly complex, it continued to be staffed primarily from the aristocracy on a patronage basis and without much regard to administrative efficiency, until the drastic reform measures that were taken in the middle of the nineteenth century. The TrevelyanNorthcote report of 1854 led the following year to the order-in-council that established the Civil Service Commission and laid the basis for civil service reform. The objectives were to abolish patronage, to admit candidates into the service at prescribed ages and through competitive examinations appropriate for the class of civil servant being recruited, and to stress the selection of outstanding Oxford and Cambridge graduates in the classics, history, science, and mathematics for appointment to the higher administrative class. The main features then adopted have been retained and have earned for the British civil service a deserved reputation for combining talent, integrity, and political responsiveness.

In the United States, civil service reform came later and took a somewhat different direction, although it was strongly influenced by the British experience. The patronage system was closely tied to political parties and resulted in frequent rotation in office as party control changed. The price of the “spoils system,” in terms of administrative performance, was as a result higher than it had been in Great Britain. Following the Civil War, a civil service reform movement gathered momentum that led in 1883 to passage of the Pendleton Act at the national level and to subsequent reforms in state and local units of government, although substantial segments of the American civil service at these levels continue even today to be operated in the spoils system tradition. The United States civil service tends to reflect characteristics of the governmental system and social system generally. As a consequence, features include considerable mobility of personnel, recruitment on a position rather than a career basis, practical tests rather than examinations stressing broad cultural attainments, a relatively low prestige ranking for membership in the public service, and quasi independence for the central personnel agency. However, there are noticeable changes under way in all these areas, and the tendency seems to be for the American civil service to become more like the British, rather than for the differences between them to increase.

In the Soviet Union and other communist countries, the environment in which public employment exists is so markedly different that to make comparisons with other civil service systems is difficult. The scope of public administration is nearly allinclusive, and the state has almost a monopoly on employment. The party is dominant in the operation of the administrative apparatus, and the line between party bureaucracy and state bureaucracy is hard to draw except in formal terms. Administration is carried on in a highly political context, and control agencies over administration have proliferated. For the ambitious young person, a choice between public and private employment is not possible since a career in the state service is the only career available.

Nevertheless, the Soviet civil service exhibits many operating characteristics common to bureaucracies everywhere, and methods have been developed in the Soviet Union as elsewhere for maintaining and controlling the personnel system. The main agency responsible for personnel policy and practices is the Central Establishments Administration in the U.S.S.R. Ministry of Finance, with subordinate agencies in the republics. These are not recruiting bodies, however. Employment is the responsibility of the various ministries and agencies. Each sector has its own schools and institutes, and recruitment and placement are closely tied in with the educational system, with graduates of the training schools obligated to serve for a prescribed period in assigned posts. Civil service examinations are not given, nor are panels of candidates provided for appointment. Job evaluation and description are apparently well developed, with wage scales attached to job categories but with variations according to the qualifications of the incumbents. The civil servant is protected from dismissal by a code similar to those in other countries, and an elaborate grievance procedure has been established by law. Within the strict limitations imposed by the political system on choice of career and job mobility, opportunities for advancement are provided for those who can demonstrate loyalty and talent, and the bureaucratic elite enjoys a privileged position in Soviet society.

Major problem areas

A number of recurrent issues have had to be dealt with by most civil service systems. These issues continue to be subject to controversy in regard to principle and subject to variation in practical operations. Some of the most important ones will be discussed briefly.

A central problem is that of selection of qualified personnel for the civil service. Even where competitive selection based on demonstrated competence is accepted as the proper approach, there are sharp differences as to how this should be done. The preference both on the Continent and in England has been to recruit graduates of educational institutions at an early age and on a career basis and, after a period of probation, arrange for the systematic advancement of those whose performance warrants promotion. The selection process is closely geared to the educational system, although there may be different views as to what kind of educational preparation is most appropriate for the future higher civil servant. The historical inclination in the United States, on the other hand, has been to keep opportunities open for entry into the service at all levels, rather than to require a career choice at the time of graduation, and to emphasize training that is closely related to the professional or technical specialty required on the job.

Nonmerit considerations continue to affect selection in numerous ways. In countries such as the United States, with its spoils background and a multiplicity of governmental jurisdictions, political party affiliation sometimes may still be decisive. In European countries, recruitment may be largely confined, as a matter of practice, to candidates from middle and upper social and economic groups rather than carried out on a basis that is more representative of the whole populace. All countries impose some standards of political loyalty. In communist countries, this identification with the ruling party becomes a primary consideration, although there is considerable evidence that professional qualifications receive increasing attention in choosing from among those meeting the political requirements. In developing countries where the supply of qualified manpower falls far short of existing and foreseeable needs, there is a tendency to overstress education as shown by degrees held and to relate placement in the civil service almost exclusively to this factor rather than to capacity to perform the work of the government.

Another common dilemma is how to make arrangements for status and for pay within the service. A complex modern bureaucracy must have a method for relating officials to one another in some systematic way. By far the most common system is one that utilizes a small number of broad classes within the service and then assigns ranks to the civil servants in each of these categories. Both Great Britain and France have four such general classes common to the ministries and departments, with the division based on clearly defined standards of education and training and with only limited movement upward from one category to another. The status of the civil servant is determined by his rank and the class to which he belongs, rather than by the particular assignment that he has at any given time. He is considered as primarily a member of a corps of career officials, rather than as the occupant of a particular position. There are indications that the rank system has advantages that make it more attractive to many of the newly independent states.

A contrasting approach is used in the United States, Canada, Brazil, and a few other countries influenced by American practice. Here the basic element in the civil service structure is the position, which is defined as a cluster of duties and responsibilities calling for the services of an individual. The position held determines status in such a duties classsification system, and similar positions are grouped into classes of positions, the occupants of which receive common treatment in matters of selection, pay, and so forth. These two systems are not mutually exclusive, however, and in many countries are employed together in various combinations.

Adequate compensation for civil servants, particularly in the higher categories, is essential to attract and hold qualified people. Only a few countries have succeeded in maintaining such pay levels and other perquisites. The best record has been made in the well-established and prestigious career services of western Europe. In the United States, compensation levels are competitive in the lower and middle levels but are grossly inadequate for the higher administrative, professional, and technical positions. In most of the developing countries, low salary scales are a major factor in explaining prevalent conditions of petty corruption, overstaffing, and low production.

The setting of suitable standards of conduct for civil servants is another common problem area in all systems. As an agent of the state, and in return for tenure and other guarantees, the civil servant is usually subjected to special regulations on matters such as the ethical standards he is expected to observe, the extent of permissible union activity, and participation in political life. Ethical norms in the civil service reflect, of course, the ethics of the society as a whole and vary widely from culture to culture [seeEthics]. The general expectation is that the public servant should more than meet the standards prevalent in the community, and this is reflected in civil service regulations even where it is not achieved in practice. Integrity of behavior is part of the tradition in well-established civil service systems, such as the British system. In contrast, laxity in ethics often is a major problem in some developing countries, where temptation is great and administrative self-control is lower.

Organized activity by civil servants to negotiate with the state as employer is ordinarily accepted but frequently is restricted to a narrower compass than in the private sector. Officially sponsored machinery for joint consultation between management and staff has often been provided, the most successful example being the Whitley councils set up in Great Britain after World War I and copied elsewhere. But the usual channel is civil service unionism. In most countries, the right of association in unions has been established and with it the right of civil service unions to affiliate with the general trade union movement, but resort to the strike as a weapon by civil servants is not normally accepted, and in several countries, including the United States, it is expressly forbidden by law.

Policy concerning the political rights of civil servants is not uniform. Some European countries impose hardly any restrictions, even allowing the civil servant to serve in legislative bodies, including the national parliament, although with varying provisions concerning his civil service status while in office. Great Britain categorizes civil servants according to their policy-making functions and the public sensitivity of their duties and has a differential policy that frees a large proportion of civil servants for normal political activities and prohibits others only from membership in the House of Commons. The United States has a much more restrictive approach, with national legislation barring not only most civil servants in the national government but also state and local officials paid from federal funds from active participation in political management and in political campaigns. Most local governmental units with merit systems impose similar limitations on their civil servants.

The relationship of the civil service to other instrumentalities of government and to outside interest groups is a topic of concern in any political system. In the Western democracies, the role of the bureaucracy is fairly well defined and the problem is essentially one of maintaining an existing balance, which has been worked out over a long period of time. Despite apprehension in some quarters that the civil service has gained undue policy-making power, the principle that the career officials must be responsive to political leadership is clearly recognized. In the communist countries, the monolithic nature of the political system leaves no doubt as to the subservient position of the state bureaucracy, although as these polities mature, the bureaucracy may be able to build up a more influential role and protect it in competition with other power centers.

The most interesting current question has to do with the place of the career public service in the newly independent developing countries. Ordinarily in these nations the civil service has been the most fully matured governmental institution at the time of independence. Particularly in former British colonies such as India, Pakistan, and Nigeria, a strong civil service had already been built up, including native as well as expatriate officials. This undoubtedly has facilitated the transition to self-government, but it also has caused concern as to the long-run prospects for democratic development in the Western pattern. The reasons include an alleged carry-over from the colonial period of attitudes of superiority and disdain toward the public and a preoccupation with law and order considerations rather than with programs of economic development and social welfare. But the main argument is that the professionalization and expansion of the civil service has outpaced the growth of executive, legislative, and judicial organs of government, not to mention the development of interest groups in the private sector. This has led some to advocate a deliberate slowdown in further improvements of the public service until the rest of the political system has had a chance to catch up. Despite the superficial appeal of this thesis, it probably reflects an overoptimistic view of the adequacy of most transitional bureaucracies to meet the extraordinary demands pressed upon them, and it rests on what is still an unproved assumption that relatively weak bureaucratic institutions will give other political institutions a better chance to grow. At any rate, it is evident that the career civil service occupies a position of crucial importance in determining the political future of the non-Western developing countries.

Approaches and trends in writing and research

Both past and present literature on civil service reflects the stages through which contemporary civil service systems have evolved. Emphasis will be placed on American sources because they are most voluminous, as well as representative of what has been done in other countries.

After the middle of the nineteenth century, when systematic attention was first given to civil service issues, the initial concern was almost exclusively with a reform or “fight the spoilsmen” approach. The movement had the twin objectives of cleaning up politics and improving the quality of administration, and the British model was advocated with modifications to fit the American circumstances. The writings of those involved in the reform movement were highly significant in the accomplishment of civil service reforms.

After merit systems had been widely adopted, attention shifted to personnel management as a technical specialty, with concentration after the turn of the century on such subjects as examination techniques, position classification, promotion criteria, performance rating, employee relations, and organization for personnel administration. Personnel work became a professional field of specialization with its own standards and criteria for judging performance. A parallel development was the linkage between personnel administration in public and private employment, with interchange of techniques based on the assumption that there were no fundamental differences between the two spheres.

In recent years a dominant theme, which began in the late 1920s and early 1930s and is usually associated with the “Hawthorne experiments” conducted at the Western Electric Company, has been to give special attention to human relations aspects of civil service operations and to apply findings from sociopsychological research to the relationships between productivity and motivation, smallgroup behavior, and supervisory practices. This led to a marked reorientation of personnel programs toward more emphasis on factors affecting work performance and relatively less emphasis on selection, status, and separation processes.

Notable current trends, which give every indication of continuing, include sociological studies of civil services as bureaucratic systems; reconsideration of public policies concerning such controversial matters as civil service unionism, political activity, and ethical standards; and increasing attention to problems of civil service contributions to the future development of the developing nations. All of these interests have encouraged the pursuit of comparative studies between public and private sectors of administration within nations and across national boundaries among civil service systems. These are healthy tendencies that should lead to a better understanding and to the future improvement of the civil service in diverse political settings.

Ferrel Heady

[See alsoAdministration; Bureaucracy; Modernization; Public administration.]


American Assembly (1954) 1965 The Federal Government Service. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

Berger, Morroe 1957 Bureaucracy and Society in Modern Egypt: A Study of the Higher Civil Service. Princeton Oriental Studies: Social Science, No. 1. Princeton Univ. Press.

Chapman, Brian 1959 The Profession of Government: The Public Service in Europe. London: Allen & Unwin.

Cole, Taylor 1949 The Canadian Bureaucracy: A Study of Canadian Civil Servants and Other Public Employees, 1939–1947. Durham, N.C.: Duke Univ. Press.

Eisenstadt, Shmuel N. 1963 The Political Systems of Empires. New York: Free Press.

Fainsod, Merle(1953) 1963 How Russia Is Ruled. Rev. ed. Russian Research Center Studies, No. 11. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Finer, Herman (1932) 1961 Theory and Practice of Modern Government. 4th ed. London: Methuen.

GrÉgoire, Roger 1954 La fonction publique. Paris: Colin.

GrÉgoire, Roger 1956 The Civil Service in Western Europe. Public Personnel Review 17:288–294.

Hazard, John N. (1957) 1964 The Soviet System of Government. 3d ed., rev. & enl. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Heady, Ferrel 1966 Public Administration: A Comparative Perspective. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

Kilpatrick, Franklin P.; Cummings, Milton C.; and Jennings, M. Kent 1964 The Image of the Federal Service. Washington: Brookings Institution.

LaPalombara, Joseph G. (editor) 1963 Bureaucracy and Political Development. Studies in Political Development, No. 2. Princeton Univ. Press.

Morstein Marx, Fritz 1957 The Administrative State: An Introduction to Bureaucracy. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Nigro, Felix A. 1959 Public Personnel Administration. New York: Holt.

Pigors, Paul; and Myers, Charles A. (1947) 1965 Personnel Administration: A Point of View and a Method. 5th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Ribas, Jacques Jean 1956 Les services de la fonction publique dans le monde. Brussels: Institut International des Sciences Administratives.

Robson, William A. (editor) 1956 The Civil Service in Britain and France. New York: Macmillan; London: Hogarth.

Spero, Sterling D. 1948 Government as Employer. New York: Remsen Press.

Stahl, Oscar Glen (1936) 1962 Public Personnel Administration. 5th ed. New York: Harper → The authors of earlier editions were William E. Mosher and J. Donald Kingsley.

Van Riper, Paul P. 1958 History of the United States Civil Service. Evanston, Ill.: Row, Peterson.

Civil Service

views updated May 09 2018




Centuries pass, and the customary view of the civil service does not change. After the works of Honoré de Balzac, Charles Dickens, and Nikolai Gogol in the nineteenth century and the satires of Georges Courteline at the turn of the twentieth century, subsequent literary efforts portrayed the civil servant as unskilled, irresponsible, corrupt—indeed, often enough all three at once. Sometimes there is an element of tragedy, and the civil servant finds himself inside depersonalized or totalitarian environments. Works by Robert Musil, Franz Kafka, Václav Havel, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn have described the distress of the isolated individual facing terrifying bureaucratic or police systems. Unfortunately, certain of these descriptions are not wrong.


As with all myths, that of the civil service has some truth. With Alexis de Tocqueville, Karl Marx, Max Weber, and later Hannah Arendt and Michel Foucault, political philosophy has continued to investigate the rise of technocratic civilization concomitant with the entry of the masses into political life. In addition, it is clear that the number of public-sector employees in Europe increased considerably over the course of the twentieth century. Precise figures are not easy to come by, considering the dissimilar criteria among countries for determining who is a civil servant. The number of civil servants in Italy grew tenfold, from 2.2 percent of the active population in 1880 to 22 percent in 1980, but "only" by four and a half times in France during this same period. In the whole of Western Europe, the salaries of civil servants represented an increasing percentage of government expenses. At the beginning of the 1990s, in the ten most industrialized countries in the European Union (EU), civil servants of state and regional agencies (public utilities excluded) accounted for between 5 percent and 8.5 percent of the population, though as high as 13 percent in Denmark.

Remuneration of those traditionally considered civil servants—such as police, magistrates, and administrative officials—does not represent the greatest cost to taxpayers. The most numerous public employees are teachers, postal employees, nurses, social administrators, technicians, and all the various social-service professionals; these occupations became the states' responsibility over the course of the twentieth century. The two world wars led all the countries involved to develop government services in charge of industrial mobilization, weapons manufacture, and administration of the workforce. The postwar state had to take care of widows and orphans, organize the reconstruction of ravaged regions, manage enormous financial deficits, and seek to maintain peace. All these tasks and more fell to the state. This was why, after 1945, many European countries—whether by choice or, on the eastern part of the Continent, under Soviet influence—opted for nationalization and the establishment of vast public state-run enterprises, notably energy, transportation, communication, and banking. Add to these the great expansion of social services.

A tendency to reverse public-sector growth has been at work since the 1980s, particularly in central and Western European countries. However, even here, for all the haste to stop the proliferation of administrative systems, it was not possible to create the tabula rasa that had been the hope of the more radical proponents of anti–big government associated with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. The centuries-long history of the geopolitical construction of Europe, with its empires and nation-states, generated influential models. If we follow Tocqueville, Napoleon I (r. 1804–1814, 1815), by inventing the Civil Code and the préfet (high-ranking civil servant of local administration), essentially continued the centralization process already begun under the ancien régime, and he was always prepared to invent new taxes to finance war.

The colonial influence was equally important. By the seventeenth century Spanish and Portuguese administrations managed and controlled vast New World possessions. In 1813 the East India Company opened a training school for future civil servants serving the colonial regime. This model, created with the help of Sir Charles Edward Trevelyan and Thomas Babington Macaulay, was copied in 1853–1855 by the British government, leading to creation of a civil service that put an end to the old patronage system in the public sphere. Such comparisons can only be pushed so far. If bureaucracies in four of the continental empires on the eve of World War I—the German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian, and Ottoman—shared an authoritarian character, only Germany, inheriting the long tradition of Prussian cameralist policies, could be considered efficient. In fact, only Germany would recover from the troubled period between the two wars, albeit at the price of Nazi ideology.

Insofar as the civil service during the interwar period is concerned, two major confrontations should be noted. First, on a political basis, there grew an opposition between parliamentary democracy and authoritarianism or totalitarianism. But there also developed increasing tension between efficiency and loyalty. The nature of their mission—to put the law to work—made civil servants lay claim to professionalism, which could in turn lead them to question, in ways subtle and unannounced, the policy of the powers that be. The history of the civil service in Europe during the twentieth century can be understood as a gradual quest for independence from the political system and, at the same time, the outcome of efforts on the part of politicians to find a means to control the public bureaucracy.


Careers in civil service at once organized and symbolized the establishment of a cadre of professionals that serve the res publica (commonwealth). As to recruitment and training, advancement, remuneration, and discipline, the tendency to regimentation and codification was present at the beginning of the century and continued during the interwar years. Although the first civil service statutes were legislated in the middle of the nineteenth century—they may be dated to 1852 in Spain, 1853 in Piedmont—many were introduced in the years just before and after World War I. Thus, for example, the Italian civil service statutes were passed in 1923, at the beginning of the fascist period, and remained in effect until 1957, well after that period ended. Irish statutes were passed in 1924, Swiss statutes in 1927; in the Netherlands, legislation dates to 1929. France and England were two exceptions. France did not pass civil service legislation until 1941, during the Vichy regime of Marshal Philippe Pétain; it was revised after the war in 1946. In spite of its extensive civil service, England still has no comparable general statute.

A comparison of the situation in Britain and France, the two oldest and largest democracies in Western Europe, remains instructive. In Britain, without a written constitution and with administrative issues long left to the prerogative of the Crown, the government had a vast field of action, and various innovations evolved into permanent features. By the mid-nineteenth century, the ideal training for high-ranking civil servants was based on the study of humanities and excluded all specialized professional knowledge; a Civil Service College was established only somewhat later. Similarly, the ways in which the civil service functioned and their employees were represented by unions were conceived as early as 1916 and put into operation three years later with the advent of the National Whitley Council. In France, on the contrary, these issues brought about a debate on principles among lawyers, politicians, and functionaries. Banned by the law, civil service unions were unofficially tolerated as early as 1924. In 1945 the École Nationale d'Administration (ENA) was established to train high-ranking civil servants; it took over a task previously entrusted to a private institute, the École Libre des Sciences Politiques, better known as Sciences-Po.

In both Britain and France, as in other liberal democracies, in the early twenty-first century legislation guarantees that public servants be treated equally. For appointments and careers in administration, discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender, or political orientation is banned. Freedom of speech is granted to civil servants who, however, must respect a code of conduct, indeed, of loyalty to the government. The possibility of running for elective office varies from one country to another, and the most permissive in this regard is France, while in England civil servants are forbidden to run for public office.

Although liberalism as a policy model is today found throughout Europe, this was not always the case. During the 1930s, competing ideologies—Nazism, fascism, Stalinism, and the dictatorships in the countries of central Europe—all rejected political pluralism. So it was that Adolf Hitler (1889–1945), for example, put into effect the "Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service" shortly after coming to power in 1933. This legislation permitted a purge based on racial and political criteria and completely deprived civil servants of political freedoms. Although the bureaucracy, which had basically never warmed to the republican regime, at first welcomed the Nazis, it rapidly began to suffer from the polycratic exercise of power in the Hitlerian administration and the rise of the SS (Schutzstaffel). An organization of coercion and terror that eventually coordinated and directed a new level of administration—that of mass murder—the SS never had reason to complain of lack of collaboration from other sectors of the state bureaucracy.


In a general way, the civil service adapted readily to the numerous transitions from democracy to authoritarian regimes and dictatorships in the twentieth century. Authoritarian regimes were often prompt to denounce bureaucracy and punish civil servants, sometimes with extreme violence—in the Soviet Union, for example, under Joseph Stalin. But in spite of accusations of cowardice, sabotage, and lack of enthusiasm, civil servants remained loyal. Beginning in the 1930s a new class of civil servants appeared. Corruption, nepotism, and outrageous political activism became the rule in Italy and the Soviet Union—two good examples even though ideologically opposed to one another. This was the "managerial" era, according to an influential model conceived by the American political theorist James Burnham; adapted to circumstances in Europe by the Yugoslavian vice president and writer Milovan Djilas and the French social philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis, this model became a severe critique of the bureaucracy's usurpation of power, such as occurred in the Soviet-dominated states of Eastern Europe.

In this context, the liberal principles associated with political and religious neutrality in public service on one hand, and of equal access to civil service on the other hand, were questioned at both ends of the political spectrum. For those in favor of an authoritarian state, political pluralism, which implies refusal to expel civil servants whose loyalty might be questioned under a liberal democratic regime—only underscored the perennial weakness of administrations unable to develop a powerful executive system. For Marxists, on the contrary, equality in the civil service seemed chimeric, merely a formal freedom given lip service. In fact, only slowly did women gain access to jobs in civil service, particularly management positions; democratization, when it came to recruiting civil servants, improved only very slowly. Of course, by comparison with past eras, when to be a servant of the state was such an honor that it did not warrant a salary, the advent of entry exams and remuneration opened doors to the less fortunate. Still, the weight of entrenched administrations remained significant, restricting the ability of politicians in power to control the state apparatus presumably at its disposal. Thus was reborn the specter, which the French revolution had tried to put to rest, of a takeover of national sovereignty by privileged, intermediate corporations.


Government expanded after 1945 to an even greater degree than in the wake of World War I. As Tocqueville had observed in 1850, "War … must invariably and immeasurably increase the powers of civil government; it must almost automatically concentrate the direction of all men and the control of all things in the hands of the government" (p. 650). The war's end did not lead to a decline in numbers in the public-sector workforce. The terror apparatus and systems to control public opinion were indeed destroyed—at least in Western Europe, even while central and Eastern Europe remained under Soviet influence. But new problems arose for postwar governments. The resources of countries destroyed by years of conflict had to be mobilized to rebuild infrastructure and housing; restart manufacturing; manage debts; and provide care for prisoners, deportees, and returning refugees. In addition, for France and Britain, the situation in their colonial holdings would soon prove to be an issue.

Such circumstances made it impossible to return to the liberal economic policies that had proved inefficient during the crisis years of the 1930s, all the more since state intervention also owed to political considerations. Nationalization of monopolies and state planning thus became the order of the day both in Western Europe, with Charles de Gaulle in France and the Labour Party in Britain ascendant, and in Eastern Europe. Thus, the three decades following the war saw a revival of Keynesian economic policies, largely under state direction; this activity slowed only when it started to generate too much tension as a result of inflation. This kind of stop-and-go growth pattern ended with the very strong showing, in the early 1980s, of the resolutely antigovernment monetary models such as that propounded by Margaret Thatcher.

Even when governed by left-wing parties, most countries in Western Europe proceeded with privatizations, justified on both ideological and budgetary grounds, with a free-market model imposed by the European Union as the foundation of economic policy. France was only a temporary exception to this process. After having greatly increased the number of its civil servants and the boundaries of government in public services in 1982, France began, within a few short years, in the mid-1980s, to gradually disengage from state intervention, a move that proved scarcely popular in a state where government ownership had powerful connotations. At the same time, even in the sphère régalienne (the police, army, justice, diplomacy), private-sector management methods emerged, with the diffusion of ambitious but confusing concepts such as "governance" and "new public management." The old ministerial type of administration was viewed as fossilized, centralized, and routine. In its place, although too Manichaean in rhetoric and somewhat artificial in practice, were new attitudes of flexibility and efficiency of agencies in which civil servants were evaluated and remunerated commensurate with their ability to fulfill objectives set by the government or legislature.

Although the education system has not entirely developed along the same lines, the systems of transportation, telecommunications, postal service, and energy are today almost completely open to competition while the civil service settles for a role as regulator, in some areas more comfortably than in others. Since the 1990s, the collapse of the static economies in Eastern Europe encouraged advocates of deregulation. On 1 May 2004 the Europe Union's admission of eight of those nations underscored their ability to adapt to the competitive capitalist system. However, to the disappointment of some, the new management principles have only been partially established in administrative systems (particularly Austro-Hungarian and Russia) that were shaped by the dual tradition in which bureaucracies of the old empires were reinforced by almost a half-century of authoritarian socialism. At the end of the 1990s, two Baltic republics, Latvia and Estonia, had extensively to refurbish their administrative practice, using as inspiration the North American model as well that of Hungary and, to a lesser degree, of the Czech Republic. It is not simple to erase the past, particularly when such overburdened and backward-looking structures as the administrative systems are its incarnation.

Whether we consider the short military-political twentieth century that lasted from 1914 to 1989, or the long technological twentieth century, which began with the industrial revolution in the 1880s and ended with the twenty-first-century communications revolution, Europe saw the implementation of many state systems. There were authoritarian models, dating to the empires of the nineteenth century, and liberal administrations of the pre-1914 era that some countries hoped to revive in the interwar years. There were also the totalitarian states of Hitler, Stalin, and others. The state as economic partner was put to use during the period from 1950 to 1970, rebuilding the old continent. Even if some convergences seem to appear—notably in terms of decentralization—deep differences remain between the various European administrative systems that originated within heterogeneous historical experiences. However, the three processes traditionally associated with the evolution of the civil service in the twentieth century—professionalization, bureaucratization, and specialization—are still relevant criteria at the beginning of the twenty-first century. To this must be added the never-easy alliance between politics and administration—an ambiguous and ambivalent relationship.

See alsoBourgeoisie; Parliamentary Democracy; Totalitarianism.


Broszat, Martin. The Hitler State: The Foundation and Development of the Internal Structure of the Third Reich. Translated by John W. Hiden. London, 1981.

de Monzie, Anatole, Henri Puget, and Pierre Tissier, eds. Encyclopédie française. Vol 10: L'état moderne: Aménagement, crise, transformations. Paris, 1935.

Finer, Herman. "Civil Service." In Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, vol. 3, edited by Edwin R. A. Seligman. New York, 1935.

Heyen, Erk Volkmar, ed. Jahrbuch für europäische Verwaltungsgeschichte, no. 1/1989 to no. 16/2004. Baden-Baden, Germany, 1989–2003.

Peters, Guy, and Jon Pierre, eds. Handbook of Public Administration. Thousand Oaks, Calif., 2003.

Tocqueville, Alexis de. Democracy in America. Edited by J. P. Mayer, translated by George Lawrence. Garden City, N.Y., 1969.

Weber, Max. Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology. Edited by Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich. Translated by Ephraim Fischoff and others. Berkeley, Calif., 1978.

Marc Olivier Baruch

Civil Service

views updated May 14 2018


CIVIL SERVICE, the term applied to the appointed civilian employees of a governmental unit, as distinct from elected officials and military personnel. Increasingly, most civil service systems in the United States are characterized by a merit system of employment based on technical expertise, as determined by competitive examinations, and on permanent tenure and nonpartisanship. A few positions in the federal civil service and many more in state and local governments are filled by employees who owe their appointments primarily to political considerations. Such employees and the offices that they fill are known as the patronage, and the appointment mechanism is known as the spoils system. Much of the history of the U.S. civil service has had to do with its transformation from a spoils system to a predominantly merit system—a struggle spanning more than a hundred years and still going on in some state and local jurisdictions.

Under President George Washington and his successors through John Quincy Adams, the federal civil service was stable and characterized by relative competence and efficiency. However, the increasingly strong pressures of Jacksonian egalitarian democracy after 1829 rudely adjusted the civil service of the founding fathers, and for more than a half-century the federal, state, and local services were largely governed by a spoils system that gave little or no consideration to competence.

The unprecedented corruption and scandals of the post–Civil War era generated the beginnings of modern civil service reform. Anact of 1871 authorized the president to utilize examinations in the appointing process, and President Ulysses S. Grant appointed the first U.S. Civil Service Commission in that year. But Congress refused appropriations; full statutory support for reform waited until 1883 and the passage of the Pendleton Act, which is still the federal government's central civil service law. This act reestablished the Civil Service Commission, created a modern merit system for many offices, and authorized the president to expand this system. Behind the reforms of the late 19th century lay the efforts of the National Civil Service League, supported by public reaction against the corruption of the times. Successive presidents, requiring more and more professional expertise to carry out congressional mandates, continued and consolidated the reform—notably Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, and Herbert Hoover. By 1900 the proportion of the federal civil service under the merit system reached nearly 60 percent; by 1930 it had exceeded 80 percent.

The depression period of the 1930s saw both a near doubling of the federal civil service and some renaissance of patronage politics, especially in the administration of work relief. With public and congressional support during his second term, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was empowered to, and did, expand the competitive system to most positions in the new agencies. Moreover, Congress extended a version of the merit system to first-, second-, and third-class postmasters; federal agencies were all required to have personnel offices; the Tennessee Valley Authority, under a special merit system statute, commenced to pioneer in government-employee labor relations; and pay-and position-classification systems were improved.

After World War II, federal personnel management, which had formerly consisted mainly of administering examinations and policing the patronage, further expanded its functions. The operation of personnel management was largely delegated to well-staffed personnel offices of agencies. Improved pay and fringe benefits, training and executive development, a positive search for first-rate talent, new approaches to performance rating, equal employment opportunity, improved ethical standards, loyalty and security procedures, incentive systems, and special programs for the handicapped were major developments. These developments and a full-scale labor relations system based on a precedent-shattering executive order by President John F. Kennedy in 1962 have characterized the transformation of nineteenth-century merit system notions into public personnel management as advanced as that anywhere in the world. In a federal civil service of 3 million, there are fewer than 15,000 patronage posts of any consequence.

Beginning in the late nineteenth century, civil service reform came also to many state and local governments, although relatively more slowly and less completely. In 1883 New York State adopted the first state civil service act and was followed almost immediately by Massachusetts. By 1940 one-third of the states had comprehensive merit systems; by 1970 two-thirds had them. The reform spread, from the East, through cities as well, after several New York State and Massachusetts cities set up civil service commissions in the 1880s. Chicago followed in 1895. Most metropolitan centers and many of the smaller cities have modern merit systems. A few have systems for police and fire departments only. Most cities act under their own statutes, but in New York, Ohio, and New Jersey, there is general coverage of local jurisdictions by state constitutional or other state legal provision. In one-quarter of the states—notable among which is California—the state personnel agencies may perform technical services for localities on a reimbursement basis. Whereas a bipartisan civil service commission provides administrative leader-ship in most jurisdictions, the single personnel director is becoming more popular.

The most important twentieth-century developments in civil service have to do with federal-state cooperative personnel arrangements. In part, such arrangements stem from a 1939 amendment to the Social Security Act of 1935, which required the federal government to apply merit system procedures to certain state and local employees paid in whole or in part through grants-in-aid. A considerable number of similar statutes followed, so that by the 1970s perhaps a million state and local positions fell within personnel systems closely monitored by the federal government. Federal supervision was for many years managed by a bureau of the Social Security Administration and later by a division of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. The Intergovernment Personnel Act of 1970, signed by President Richard M. Nixonon 5 January 1971, relocated the supervision of grant-in-aid employees within the U.S. Civil Service Commission. But, equally important, this act authorized federal grants-in-aid to state and local governments in support of modern personnel systems within these jurisdictions. The function of handling these grants-in-aid is also with the U.S. Civil Service Commission. Thus, it has become the central personnel agency not only of the federal government but also, in many respects, of the entire intergovernmental system.

In size, the federal civil service has grown from an institution of a few hundred employees in 1789 to nearly 3 million. During major wars the federal civil service has doubled and even quadrupled; its peak occurred in 1945 when civil service employees numbered nearly 4 million. There has been a similar growth instate and local services. The federal civil service saw its greatest continuing expansion between 1930 and 1950; progressive expansion of state and local civil service rosters began in the late 1940s, when state and local governments started on the road to becoming the fastest growing segment of American enterprise, public or private. By the 1970s federal civil employees functioned almost entirely under merit system procedures, as did some 75 percent of those in state and local governments. Civil service reform is therefore nearly an accomplished fact in the United States, but budget cuts in the 1980s and 1990s have created a serious strain on the civil service's efforts to fulfill its duties. Critics of the civil service have described its members as out of-touch "government bureaucrats" who put their own narrow interests ahead of those of the American people. In an effort to reduce the size of the government, such critics have proposed and implemented significant reductions in the civil service budget. In light of such policies, civil service officers at both the state and federal levels face the challenge of meeting growing obligations with declining resources.

Notwithstanding budget concerns, civil service re-form in the United States has produced a uniquely open system, in contrast to the closed career system common to other nations—which one enters only at a relatively early age and remains within for a lifetime, in the manner associated in the United States mainly with a military career. The Pendleton Act of 1883 established this original approach, providing that the federal service would be open to persons of any age who could pass job-oriented examinations. Persons may move in and out of public service, from government to private industry and back again, through a process known as lateral entry. It is this openness to anyone who can pass an examination, this constant availability of lateral entry, that has set the tone and character of public service in the United States at all levels. One consequence of U.S. civil service policy has been to provide a notable route for upward mobility, especially for women and blacks. Thus, the U.S. civil service has reflected the open, mobile nature of American society and, in turn, has done much to support it.


In graham, Patricia W. The State of the Higher Civil Service after Reform: Britain, Canada, and the United States. Paris: OECD, 1999.

Johnson, Ronald N. The Federal Civil Service System and the Problem of Bureaucracy: The Economics and Politics of Institutional Change. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

Schultz, David A. The Politics of Civil Service Reform. New York: P. Lang, 1998.

Paul P.Van Riper/a. g.

See alsoBureaucracy ; Expenditures, Federal ; Federal Government ; Labor, Department of ; Revenue, Public .

civil service

views updated May 09 2018

civil service. Despite repeated campaigns to reduce numbers, the civil service remains one of the great growth areas of modern Britain. In the 17th cent. the civil service—i.e. persons directly employed by the government—was tiny. The royal household, it is true, numbered some 2,000 persons, but that included 210 Yeomen of the Guard, 55 gentlemen pensioners, together with cooks and porters, who were not civil servants in the modern sense. The two secretaries of state had a staff of about fifteen—four clerks of the signet, a French and a Latin secretary, a German translator, and between four and eight junior clerks. There was no career structure, posts were filled by patronage, and remuneration was by fees rather than salary. When the two secretaries of state were divided into foreign and home in 1782, the Home Office began with two under-secretaries, a chief clerk, ten other clerks, and some domestic staff. The Rockinghams began, and Pitt continued, a campaign of economical reform, and sinecures were snipped away, but the persistent warfare from 1793 led to further increases in numbers, particularly in the revenue and in naval administration.

The growth of the civil service in the 19th cent. was steady and moderate and hardly kept pace with the rise in population. In 1815 there were 25,000 civil servants; 39,000 by 1851; 54,000 by 1871; and 79,000 by 1891. Some reforms were introduced piecemeal by departments. In the Treasury, North had launched the concept of promotion by merit (1776), Shelburne had inaugurated fixed salaries (1782), and in 1805 an assistant secretary was appointed, the forerunner of the permanent secretary. A comprehensive review waited for the Northcote–Trevelyan Report of 1854, which recommended a division of labour between graduate policy-makers and humble administrators; entry by competitive examination; transfer between departments; and promotion by merit based on assessment. The proposals were implemented piecemeal, though a Civil Service Commission, to supervise recruitment, was set up at once in 1855.

The vast expansion of the civil service in the 20th cent. is not easy to calculate, since definitions are troublesome and one commentator has referred to the ‘statistical conjuring tricks’—e.g. recategorizing thousands of civil servants—to give the impression that numbers are falling. The biggest growth has been in welfare and education services, beginning in the first decade of the century. By 1939 the numbers had risen to 387,000 and by 1979 to 730,000. These developments were accompanied by further reports. Haldane in 1918 was concerned that senior civil servants had little time to think, though the proposals were modest. Plowden in 1961 complained that the Treasury had no adequate system for forecasting or controlling expenditure—a rather worrying observation—and the Fulton Committee in 1968 deplored the survival of the cult of the amateur gentleman, the generalist, and called for the expert or specialist: ‘the cult is obsolete at all levels.’ One consequence was the establishment of a Civil Service College in 1970 to conduct research and training.

Among other criticisms, it has often been suggested that the senior civil servants really run things and can frustrate the plans of all but the most determined of ministers—a view reinforced by the popular television series Yes, Minister. Generalization in so wide and imprecise an area is hard, but an equally cogent view is that the upper civil service has been too subservient to party whims and ideologies—what is sometimes known as the ‘grovel factor’. Neutrality of the civil service is a concept readily conceded, but practice is more difficult, and the line between warning and frustrating, concurring and encouraging, is not easy to establish.

Though the public image of the civil servant may remain a pin-striped bowler-hatted Whitehall mandarin, most civil servants work outside London and half of them are women. Of the non-industrial civil service, the large employers are the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Social Security, the Board of Inland Revenue, the Department of Education and Employment, the Department of the Environment, the Home Office, and Customs and Excise.

J. A. Cannon

Civil Service School (Ottoman)

views updated May 29 2018


established to train civil servants to administer the ottoman state of the mid-nineteenth century.

Established on 12 February 1859, the Civil Service School (Turkish, Mektebi-i Mülkiye) of the Ottoman Empire trained administrators in accordance with the new Tanzimat reforms. (The term mülkiye refers to the civilianthe nonmilitary and nonreligiousbranches of government.)

The school offered courses in humanities, social sciences, and foreign languages, as well as special courses on public administration. In 1877, the curriculum was expanded and modernized. The first graduating class had 33 members; by 1885, there were 393. Graduates often filled the provincial posts of qaʾimmaqam (district governor). In 1935, the name was changed to School of Political Science; as the Faculty of Political Science, it is now located in Turkey's capital, Ankara.

see also tanzimat.


Lewis, Bernard. The Emergence of Modern Turkey, 3d edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Shaw, Stanford, and Shaw, Ezel Kural. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey. 2 vols. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 19761977.

David Waldner

Civil Service

views updated May 21 2018


The designation given to government employment for which a person qualifies on the basis of merit rather than political patronage or personal favor.

Civil service employees, often called civil servants or public employees, work in a variety of fields such as teaching, sanitation, health care, management, and administration for the federal, state, or local government. Legislatures establish basic prerequisites for employment such as compliance with minimal age and educational requirements and residency laws. Employees enjoy job security, promotion and educational opportunities, comprehensive medical insurance coverage, and pension and other benefits often not provided in comparable positions in private employment.

Most civil service positions are filled from lists of applicants who are rated in descending order of their passing scores on competitive civil service examinations. Such examinations are written tests designed to measure objectively a person's aptitude to perform a job. They are open to the general public upon the completion and filing of the necessary forms. Promotional competitive examinations screen eligible employees for job advancement. Veterans of the armed services may be given hiring preference, usually in the form of extra points added to their examination scores, depending upon the nature and duration of their service. Applicants may also be required to pass a medical examination and more specialized tests that relate directly to the performance of a designated job. Once hired, an employee may have to take an oath to execute his job in good faith and in accordance with the law.

Unlike workers in private employment, civil service employees may be prohibited from certain acts that would compromise their position as servants of the government and the general public. For example, the federal hatch act (5 U.S.C.A. § 7324 et seq. [1887]) makes participation by federal, state, and local civil service employees in designated public electoral and political activities unlawful.

The U.S. Civil Service Commission, created by Congress in 1883 and reorganized under the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (5 U.S.C.A. § 1101 et seq.) as the merit systems protection board, established a merit system for federal employment and governs various aspects of such employment, such as job classification, tenure, pay, training, employee relations, equal opportunity, pensions, and health and life insurance. Most states have comparable bodies for the regulation of state and local civil service employment.

civil service

views updated Jun 11 2018

civil service Administrative establishment for carrying on the work of government. In the UK, the modern service was developed between 1780 and 1870, as the weight of parliamentary business became too heavy for ministers to attend to both policy-making and departmental administration. The Treasury got its first permanent secretary in 1805, the Colonial Office a permanent official in 1825. The two main divisions of the civil service are the Home and Diplomatic services. Since 1968 the civil service has been controlled by the Prime Minister (as minister of the civil service), but day-to-day management is undertaken by the Lord Privy Seal. In 1981 the Secretary to the Cabinet was made Head of the Home Civil Service. In 1996 the Senior Civil Service was created. The UK civil service has grown away from its centre in Whitehall, London, and now has many regional offices. In 1998, there were c.468,180 permanent civil servants in the UK. In the USA, the civil service evolved from the ineffective ‘spoils system’ (1828) established during Andrew Jackson's presidency, whereby posts were given as rewards for political support. This system remained in place until the Pendleton Act (1883) created the Civil Service Commission. The Commission created a merit system, and following the Hatch Acts (1939, 1940), federal employees can no longer play an active role in party politics.

civil servant

views updated Jun 08 2018

civ·il serv·ant • n. a member of the civil service.

civil service

views updated May 18 2018

civ·il serv·ice • n. the permanent professional branches of a government's administration, excluding military and judicial branches and elected politicians.

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