AP GOVERNMENT

 

UNIT ONE TEST - 3RD QUARTER

 

CHAPTER 13 - THE PRESIDENCY     CHAPTER 15 -  THE BUREAUCRACY     CHAPTER 14  - THE CONGRESS, THE PRESIDENT AND THE BUDGET    CHAPTER 17 - ECONOMIC POLICYMAKING

 

 

1.       2004 AP Question 1:  Presidents are generally thought to have advantages over Congress in conducting foreign policy because of the formal and informal powers of the

        presidency.

(a)      Identify two formal constitutional powers of the President in making foreign policy.

(b)     Identify two formal constitutional powers of Congress in making foreign policy.

(c)      Identify two informal powers of the President that contribute to the President’s advantage over Congress in conducting foreign policy.

(d)     Explain how each of the informal powers identified in (c) contributes to the President’s advantage over Congress in conducting foreign policy.

 

2.       2007 AP Question 3:   Conflicts between Congress and the President over war powers have their origin in the United States Constitution.  In 1973 Congress

        passed the War Powers Resolution in an attempt to clarify the balance of powers between the two branches of government.

(a)     Describe the primary constitutional conflict between Congress and the President over the decision to go to war.

(b)     Describe two provisions of the War Powers Resolution that were designed to limit the President’s power over war making.

(c)     Explain why the “legislative veto” part of the War Powers Resolution may be “unconstitutional”.

 

3.       2003 AP Question 1:  Presidential approval ratings fluctuate over the course of each presidential administration.  Identify two factors that decrease presidential approval ratings, and explain why each factor has that effect.  Identify two factors that increase presidential approval ratings, and explain why each factor has that effect. 

 

4.       2006 AP Question 3:  The United States Congress and the President together have the power to enact federal law.  Federal bureaucratic agencies have the responsibility to execute federal law.  However, in the carrying out of these laws, federal agencies have policy-making discretion (discretionary authority).

(a)     Explain two reasons why Congress gives federal agencies policy-making discretion in executing federal laws.

(b)     Choose one of the bureaucratic agencies listed below.  Identify the policy area over which it exercises policy-making discretion and give one specific example of how its exercises that discretion.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Federal Communications Commission (FCC)

Federal Reserve Board

(c)     Describe two ways in which Congress ensures that federal agencies follow legislative intent.

 

5.  2008 AP Question 2:  A number of factors enable presidents to exert influence over Congress in the area of domestic policy.  However, presidents are also limited in their

     influence over domestic policymaking in Congress.

                                (a)  The Constitution grants the president certain enumerated powers.  Describe two of these formal powers that enable the president to exert influence over domestic

                                       policy.

                                (b)  Choose two of the following.  Define each term and explain how each limits the president’s ability to influence domestic policymaking in Congress.

·         Mandatory spending

·         Party polarization

·         Lame-duck period

 

6.  2008 AP Question 3:  Fiscal policy and monetary policy are two tools used by the federal government to influence the United States economy.  The executive and

      legislative branches share the responsibility of setting fiscal policy.  The Federal Reserve Board has the primary role of setting monetary policy.

(a)      Define fiscal policy.

(b)     Describe one significant way the executive branch influences fiscal policy.

(c)      Describe one significant way the legislative branch influences fiscal policy.

(d)     Define monetary policy.

(e)      Explain two reasons why the Federal Reserve Board is given independence in establishing monetary policy.

 

7.       Our economy and federal budget revolve around the two major aspects of fiscal policy – federal taxing and spending.  Briefly explain the following concerning the federal budget-making process:

A.      Executive requirements and the Legislative process

B.       Overall Budget – revenues, outlays, deficit

C.       Spending – two major categories and spending by major categories

D.      Revenue – major sources

E.       The Deficit and the relationship to the National Debt

        Your typed response according to the above categories is due on Unit 1 test day - 2/10/09 (A) & 2/11/09 (B).  Provide specifics from class, your text and the Budget

        PowerPoint or Budget 101 interactive link - http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/interactives/budget101/

 

 

 

KEY TERMS AND CONCEPTS

Cabinet: the group of presidential advisors who head the executive departments.

Council of Economic Advisers (CEA): members advise the president on economic

policy and prepare the Annual Report of the CEA.

Crisis: a sudden, unpredictable, and potentially dangerous event.

Impeachment: the political equivalent of an indictment for removing a discredited

president.

Legislative veto: a clause which allows Congress to override the action of the

executive.

National Security Council (NSC): a committee that links the president's key

foreign and military advisors.

Office of Management and Budget (OMB): responsible for preparing the

president's budget and assessing the budgetary implications of legislative proposals.

Pocket veto: this occurs when Congress adjourns within ten days after submitting a

bill and the president takes no action to sign it or veto it.

Presidential coattails: where voters cast their ballots for congressional candidates

of the president's party because those candidates support the president.

Twenty-fifth Amendment: passed in 1967, permits the vice president to become

acting president in the event that the president is temporarily disabled.

Twenty-second Amendment: passed in 1951, limits presidents to two terms.

Veto: sending the legislation back to Congress with reasons for rejecting it.

War Powers Resolution: passed in 1973, requires presidents to consult with

Congress prior to using military force and mandates the withdrawal of forces after

sixty days unless Congress declares war or grants an extension.

Watergate: a political scandal involving President Nixon's abuse of his powers.

Appropriations bill: bill passed annually to fund an authorized program.

Authorization bill: an act of Congress that establishes a discretionary government

program or an entitlement, or that continues or changes such programs.

Budget: a policy document that allocates burdens (taxes) and benefits

(expenditures).

Budget resolution: a bill setting limits on expenditures based on revenue

projections, agreed to by both houses of Congress in April each year.

Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974: an act designed

to reform the budgeting process by making Congress less dependent on the

president’s budget; established a fixed budget calendar and a budget committee in

each house.

Congressional Budget Office (CBO): research agency of Congress, responsible to

it for providing analyses of budget proposals, revenue forecasts, and related

information.

Continuing resolutions: laws that allow agencies to spend at the previous year’s

level.

Deficit: occurs when government spends more money than it receives in taxes in the

fiscal year.

Entitlements: expenditures for which the total amount spent is not by Congressional

appropriation, but rather by rules of eligibility established by Congress.

Expenditures: money spent by the government in any one year.

Federal debt: all of the money borrowed by the government over the years that is

still outstanding.

House Ways and Means Committee: responsible for originating all revenue bills.

Income tax: the portion of money individuals are required to pay to the government

from the money they earned.

Incrementalism: the best predictor of this year's budget is last year's budget plus a

little bit more.

Medicare: in 1965, this program was added to Social Security to provide hospital

and physician coverage to the elderly.

Reconciliation: revisions of program authorizations to make the final budget meet

the limits of the budget resolution, usually occurring toward the end of the budgetary

process.

Revenues: money received by the government in any given year.

Senate Finance Committee: responsible for writing the tax code.

Sixteenth Amendment: passed in 1913, permits Congress to levy an income tax.

Social Security Act: passed to provide a minimal level of sustenance to older

Americans.

Tax expenditures: revenue losses due to special exemptions, exclusions, and

deductions.

Uncontrollable expenditures: result from policies that make some group

automatically eligible for benefits.

Administrative discretion: authority of administrative actors to select among

various responses to a given problem, especially when rules do not fit or more than

one rule applies.

Bureaucracy: implementors of policy.

Civil service: promotes hiring on the basis of merit and establishes a nonpartisan

government service.

Command-and-control policy: regulatory strategy where government sets a

requirement and then enforces individual and corporate actions to be consistent with

meeting the requirement.

Deregulation: the withdrawal of the use of governmental authority to control or

change some practice in the private sector.

Executive orders: regulations originating in the executive branch.

Governmental corporations: provide services that could be handled by the private

sector and generally charge cheaper rates than a private sector producer.

GS (General Service) rating: assigned to each job in federal agencies, this rating

helps to determine the salary associated with the position.

Hatch Act: passed in 1940, prohibits government workers from active participation

in partisan politics.

Incentive system: regulatory strategy that rewards individuals or corporations for

desired types of behavior, usually through the tax code.

Independent executive agencies: executive agencies which are not cabinet

departments, not regulatory commissions, and not government corporations.

Independent regulatory agency: has responsibility for a sector of the economy to

protect the public interest.

Iron triangles: refers to the strong ties among government agencies, interest groups,

and congressional committees and subcommittees.

Merit principle: using entrance exams and promotion ratings for hiring workers.

Office of Personnel Management (OPM): responsible for hiring for most

agencies.

Patronage: a hiring and promotion system based on knowing the right people.

Pendleton Civil Service Act: passed in 1883, it created the federal Civil Service.

Policy implementation: the stage of policymaking between the establishment of a

policy and the results of the policy for individuals.

Regulation: the use of governmental authority to control or change some practice

in the private sector.

Senior Executive Service: the very top level of the bureaucracy.

Standard operating procedures: detailed rules written to cover as many particular

situations as officials can anticipate to help bureaucrats implement policies

uniformly.

Street-level bureaucrats: bureaucrats who are in constant contact with the public.

Antitrust policy: government regulation of business to ensure competition and

prevent monopoly (control of a market by one company).

Capitalism: an economic system in which individuals and corporations own the

principal means of production, through which they seek to reap profits.

Collective bargaining: the right of workers to have labor union representatives

negotiate with management to determine working conditions.

Consumer Price Index (CPI): a government statistic that measures the change in

the cost of buying a fixed basket of goods and services.

Federal Reserve System: created by Congress in 1913 to regulate the lending

practices of banks and thus the money supply.

Fiscal policy: the government’s decisions to tax, spend, and borrow, as reflected in

the federal budget.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA): government agency with broad regulatory

powers over the manufacturing, contents, marketing and labeling of food and drugs.

Inflation: a government statistic that measures increases in the price of goods.

Keynesian economic theory: the theory emphasizing that government spending

and deficits can help the economy weather its normal ups and downs. Proponents

of this theory advocate using the power of government to stimulate the economy

when it is lagging.

Laissez-faire: a belief that government should not intervene in the economy.

Mixed economy: a system in which the government, while not commanding the

economy, is still deeply involved in economic decisions.

Monetarism: economic theory that suggests that the supply of money is key to the

nation’s economic health.

Monetary policy: government decisions regarding the money supply, including the

discount rates for bank borrowing, reserve requirements for banks, and trading of

government securities.

Multinational Corporation: businesses with vast holdings in many countries.

National Labor Relations Act: passed by Congress in 1935, guarantees workers

the right of collective bargaining; also known as the Wagner Act.

Right to work laws: laws forbidding labor contracts from requiring workers to join

unions to hold their jobs.

Securities and Exchange Commission: the federal agency created during the

New Deal that regulates stock fraud.

Supply-side economics: economic philosophy that holds that the key task for

government economic policy is to stimulate the supply of goods, not their demand.

Unemployment rate: a government statistic that measures how many workers are

unemployed.

 

 

 

 

A New Deal
How to Shake Up the Bureaucracy? Change the Work Rules.

By Ann Gerhart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 28, 2005; Page C01

Hundreds of thousands of federal workers made a deal when they signed up with Uncle Sam. Whether they were janitors pushing a broom or naval designers floating tiny model destroyers or econometricians micro-simulating Social Security scenarios, the deal was the same:

They would do good work, even rewarding, satisfying work. It wouldn't be sexy work, and it wouldn't make them rich. But what they would get was stability, the federal holidays, transit subsidies, Cadillac health care, the flextime allowing every other Friday off. The hours would be regular. The raises would come -- click, click, click up the general service scale. No one would insist that a GS-5 or GS-15 be anyone's political crony. And, when the day came to get out, they would get their pot at the end of the rainbow -- a fat federal pension, plump enough for a cabin in the woods, maybe, or a fishing skiff and condo in Florida.

Hand in hand with Uncle Sam, they would construct lives of comforting predictability.

Oh, every decade or so, some politicians would rumble about the bloated bureaucracy and talk sternly of the need to shrink big government. They would insult the workforce. Deride them as lazy. Red-tape creators. And the civil servants, the very engine of this region's economy, would put their heads down, mumble to each other in the agency cafeterias and wait them out. Eventually, those politicians would go back to wherever they came from. They always did.

Until now. President Bush and his Texas comrades have succeeded in doing what no one else could in 120 years of civil service.

They have ended the deal.

New personnel regulations at the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense will dramatically change the way 860,000 workers there are paid, promoted, demoted and disciplined. The plan is to spread the changes throughout all the land of federal government. No more automatic raises. No more simple pass-fail evaluations. No more Job for Life. The unions have taken it on the lip.

While the pay-for-performance changes won't take effect until 2009, workers are getting anxious. They don't know what their life will look like. And knowing what life would look like, after all, was always the point.

And when their lives change, this region, with a $27 billion federal payroll in 2003, will change with them. The afternoon rush hour may no longer begin at 3:30. The malls may not clog on Presidents' Day. The institutions of community -- the PTA, the soccer teams, the Scout prrograms, the civic groups -- may go begging for volunteers because it's harder to find someone who can make it to a 4:30 practice or a 7 p.m. planning session.

If the world is divided into two types of people, those restless for risk and those repulsed by it, government work attracts the latter. If you are not one of them, they are the people waiting patiently in the slug lines to go home as the late-afternoon sun slants across the concrete canyons of federal Washington. They are the ones riding Metro happily immersed in paperback novels rather than BlackBerrys, not bothering to tuck away their ID cards on chains. If they are particularly proud of their jobs, the ladies upgrade to more decorative lanyards, studded with pretty glass beads.

They speak in a jargon all their own. They nod wisely when the ads on WTOP tell them "to save 30 to 80 percent on your FEGLD option B" or trust VeriSign for "HPSD 12 solutions and FISMA compliance." They are content with code. It orders their world. Their day ends at a regular time, and they leave their work behind.

"In the beginning, it was good," says Joyce Raeford, who got into government work nearly 20 years ago, working in the day-care center on the Army base where her husband was stationed. It paid better than her first job at Fort Dix, in a Head Start pilot program in the '60s, where she started out at 90 cents an hour, and, "girl, when we got that raise to $1.10 we were jumping up and down. I will never forget it," she says. "We had a party."

Now a widow in her late fifties, Raeford is making about $19 an hour as a lead education aide at one of the child development centers at Fort Belvoir in Virginia. She works 8 to 5, Monday through Friday. Her ID card hangs from a WWJD lanyard, and she is a matriarch: four children, 13 grands, and, she says, with a big smile, "three greats." The work is fine, and she is still proud of teaching "my babies."

But?

"Change is scary," says Raeford. "Coming to work one day, and not having a job for sure, that you could be gone with a wave of the hand?" She shakes her head. You could get a boss who just didn't like the way you presented yourself. "Mmm mmm mmm."

It seems unthinkable to many that the government, a model, progressive, benevolent employer, could come to resemble the private sector, with its layoffs and loss of loyalty to long-term employees.

In the spring of 1973, Colleen Kelly was getting ready to graduate from Drexel University with an accounting degree. She was figuring she'd join one of the big public accounting firms or go into private industry. "And the IRS came to campus," she recalls. "I really would not have thought to look at the federal government. But they talked about their training program on tax law and the career opportunities, and the salary grade in the GS system. They showed us the promotion opportunities, and the health insurance and the retirement."

She became a revenue agent, auditing corporate tax returns. She went to graduate school at night. She specialized in making sure that companies with foreign subsidiaries had not improperly shifted their income offshore, where it would be taxed at a lower rate. Your tax dollars at work to get more tax dollars! It might seem like tedious, squint-eyed work, but she says, "I really liked what I was doing. There were times in the first years when I would look outside to see what was available." She would hear the siren call of higher salaries and bonuses, but caution always prevailed. "When I weighed that against the system I knew and understood, and that if I did what I was supposed to do, if I excelled, well, I valued" more the deal with the government.

Kelly did eventually go outside, but not to one of the big accounting firms. She is now president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents more than 150,000 employees in 30 governmental agencies, and is one of the leaders of an effort to ask the courts to stop implementation of the new personnel rules.

She hears her members' worries every day. "They signed up for the long haul," says Kelly. "So many of them have 10 or 15 years [to go until retirement], and there is no question it was their intent to have a career and retire from the federal government, from a work environment that had rules that provided balance and fairness. And now there are a lot of questions about the future."

Payback Time

The 1.8 million federal workers owe their jobs to Charles Guiteau.

An attorney and failed journalist, he became a fanatical supporter of James Garfield for president. Usually, he stood outside Republican headquarters on Fifth Avenue in New York, speechifying and haranguing anyone who passed by.

When Garfield was elected in 1880, Guiteau moved to Washington, assuming his fierce support would earn him an appointment in government. He bombarded Secretary of State James G. Blaine with letters demanding a job, a standard practice.

At that time, newspaper advertising swelled after elections. "WANTED -- A GOVERNMENT CLERKSHIP at a salary of not less than $1,000 per annum. Will give $100 to anyone securing me such a position," read a typical ad. According to one government archive, Garfield found "hungry office-seekers lying in wait for him like vultures for a wounded bison."

Guiteau was so disappointed to be rebuffed that he killed the president.

The shock waves propelled the Pendleton Act through Congress. Signed into law in 1883, it removed jobs from the patronage ranks and reestablished the Civil Service Commission to administer a system based on merit instead of connections. The civil service examination weeded out the hacks who merely wanted indoor work with no heavy lifting. It built the miracle of a meritocracy out of a corrupt world of political favors.

It built Washington, helping to transform a swampy, mosquito-infested river town into a colossus of power. People streamed here for government work, building an educated, skilled middle class that plowed under farms in Maryland and Virginia and replaced them with hundreds of thousands of acres of brick Colonials, garages attached.

Over the decades, a government job became a destination, rather than a fallback position. Attracted to a philosophy of government as protector that began with the New Deal and built through President John F. Kennedy's call to Americans to ask "what you can do for your country," college graduates with political science degrees poured into public service. During the 1970s and early '80s, says Paul Light, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and a civil service expert, "if you would ask graduates about their intent, most would say government." By the late '80s, only a third would answer that way.

And young people today, he says, have little to no interest in the federal government as an employer. "The reputation couldn't be worse," he says. "Young people think it's difficult to get a job, the hiring process is slow and confusing, a substantial minority figure it's unfair."

The government's capacity to create tidy, orderly lives has no appeal for twenty-somethings. With some surveys showing they will hold an average of nine different jobs by the time they're 32, they have no expectation of loyalty to or from an employer.

Although there are 15 GS levels (with 10 steps within each one), there are really only two categories of workers: professionals and support staff. What they share is a preference for an orderly life. The federal system, with its rigid personnel rules, can breed a culture where workers prefer being told what to do, rather than taking individual initiative. "There is a kernel of truth in the reputation," says Light. "A lot of workers did take their job for the security and benefits. It is also a lot better workforce than the politicians like to admit."

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush argued that the old work rules and regulations hampered government's ability to respond quickly to crises. He easily won congressional approval to change the system. In January of 2003, the bipartisan National Commission on the Public Service, chaired by Paul Volcker, called for the abolishment of the general schedule. The new rules will replace the half-century-old GS schedule with a pay-for-performance system, as recommended in 2003 by a bipartisan commission on public service, and will also limit the unions' ability to intervene on behalf of their members.

"We think those flexibilities make it possible for agencies to better focus on results and to hold the people and managers accountable," Clay Johnson, deputy director for management at the Office for Management and Budget, said at a briefing to unveil the new rules.

Some sort of change is certainly necessary, says Pat McGinniss, the executive director of the nonpartisan Council for Excellence in Government.

"Government has not been as innovative as the private sector," she says. "How can we get to a more flexible, more nimble, more results-oriented government?"

Easy Targets

Rep. Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, acknowledges that the current system needs to be "less cumbersome" when poorly performing workers need to be removed.

But both Kelly, the union president, and Hoyer raise the specter of political favoritism creeping into the system. "One of the reasons we have a civil service system was to get away from patronage," says Hoyer. Before, "if a person was seen as politically incorrect they would suffer in terms of salary or responsibility. There could be a stability and nonpartisanship to the process." The changes, he says, are going to undermine that.

What particularly sticks in the Maryland congressman's craw is the hostility he hears toward the 55,000 people who stream each day into the U.S. Census Bureau in Suitland, the National Archives in College Park, the Goddard Space Center in Beltsville, the Food and Drug Administration laboratories in White Oak.

"For years in Washington there has been a group [in power] that essentially believes the public service is not as important as the private service, the smaller the government the better it is," he says. "It is easy to whip up disrespect and antipathy toward a big bureaucracy that is sucking your taxes and not giving anything in return."

And yet, he points out, "these are the people we are talking about: They're going to work every day to find a cure for cancer or heart disease or Alzheimer's. Or the guy on the border to protect us against terrorists. Or the person down at the space center who is working to put a satellite up to better analyze the weather to give you greater warning of a hurricane coming. Or at the FDA trying to make sure that the drugs and the food are safe."

Or keeping the allergy clinic on Fort Belvoir running smoothly.

That is what Renee Garris does. She is 45. GS-5, step 5. Makes about $28,000 a year.

She likes to wear suits to work, and eyeglasses that are hip but mean business. She grew up in the District, had a baby at 16, got married, finished school, had another baby. Her husband, Jerome, is out of the Marines after 22 years and works for Sodexho as a manager. Her girls are 23 and 29 now. Over the years, she has gone back to school so she can earn more money and also, she says, "because I had girls watching me." When her husband was stationed at Camp Pendleton in California, she worked as a cashier at the post exchange and took college classes in medical administration. Without additional training, she says, "you can only go so far."

Once, for about 30 days, she ventured into the private sector. That was enough. What she enjoys about working for the Department of Defense and her current bosses, she says, is "they don't mind you doing new things, helping with different training to help you meet your goals."

And her goal is to be able to get out, if the day comes when her workplace changes on her. Her daughters have no interest in working for their mother's employer. The elder is a teacher. The younger works in day care. Both her sons-in-law are in the military and have been stationed in Iraq. "We say a lot of prayers," says Garris.

The deal she has made has her life looking like this: Up every morning at her Spotsylvania home at 3:45 to catch the van pool at 5, which gets her into work by 6 or 6:15 a.m. The clinic doesn't open until 7:45, but that's when the van pool comes, so she's early every day. But there's always something to do. Her husband goes in the opposite direction, to his job in Richmond.

She leaves at 3:45 p.m. With traffic, Garris might not get home until 5:45. After years of living in apartments and base housing, she and Jerome own their own brick-and-stone split-level in a quiet, pretty neighborhood. Most nights, her husband makes dinner. Most nights, between 7 and 9:30, they play dominoes, often with another couple, "young neighbors we mentor," says Garris.

Her days are long, but they have a certainty to them. She knows where she'll stand this time next year, and maybe the year after that. The system has its patterns, and she's come to understand its rules.

You sign on with Uncle Sam, and it's mostly a good deal.

Until it isn't anymore.

 

A Civil Service That Fails Today's Test

By Donald F. Kettl

Sunday, February 27, 2005; Page B01

Washington has always been a company town. That, in fact, was precisely what Congress wanted to create when it carved the federal district out of Maryland and Virginia in 1790 -- a place where the national government could do its business beyond the control of the states. As the government workforce exploded in the late 19th century, the idea of a politically neutral corps of public servants bound by a common mission and a core set of values, performing the daily functions of government through wars and sweltering August heat, certainly enhanced that company town feeling. The politicians may have held the best parties, but Washington's personality was really defined by its bureaucrats.

Now, however, there's a crisis in the company town. The civil service system that drives the bureaucracy is broken. Every careful look at it over the last decade, including two commissions and a series of reports by the Government Accountability Office, has concluded that a century's worth of personnel problems have become encrusted like barnacles on the ship of state, making it ever harder to steer. Quite simply, the government's ability to do its job is falling behind the problems it faces. The current civil service system isn't producing the managers the government needs, nor are they equipped to do the job that has to be done.

This was the impetus behind new employment rules announced this month at the departments of Defense and Homeland Security. Added to changes already underway in the Federal Aviation Administration and the Internal Revenue Service, they mean that half of all federal workers could soon be operating under a brand-new system designed to replace rigidity with flexibility and shift an emphasis on process to an accent on performance.

Though that's a step in the right direction, it also raises new problems. A dual-track process that reforms some agencies while leaving others in the dust can only further undermine the government's ability to do what needs to be done. We badly need reform, but it has to be realized in a way that creates a new ethos of high performance that unites, not divides, the company town.

The proposed Pentagon and DHS changes may make February 2005 the most important month for federal personnel policy since January 1883, when the Pendleton Act built the foundation for the current much-maligned system. As the federal bureaucracy began to burgeon after the Civil War, the spoils system by which jobs had traditionally been filled broke down. Desperate job-seekers besieged newly elected presidents, and Congress and the White House tussled endlessly over patronage positions. At the same time, a rising need for more advanced skills -- from typing to scientific expertise -- called for a different approach to hiring. The new civil service provided a competent, professional bureaucracy hired and promoted on the basis of merit rather than political favoritism.

Today, though, both workers and managers agree that the civil service system no longer works for anyone. Managers complain that the system's hardened skeleton, the "general schedule" that determines employee pay and promotion based on an intricate structure of grades and steps -- and chiefly rewards longevity over perfformance -- makes it hard to motivate employees to be productive and to reward the stars who excel.

In addition, the longstanding civil service test is out of sync with the skills in demand. The government's ability to size up its workforce needs has lagged way behind its shifting responsibilities, particularly since the 9/11 attacks, which made it critical for government to be able to adapt quickly to new challenges.

Prospective employees, meanwhile, regularly complain that the hiring process is slow, unpredictable and unfair. Many throw up their hands and flee to the nonprofit world, or to private contractors, where they can be paid better for doing government work. Current employees, for their part, bemoan a lack of adequate training and compensation, as well as restrictions on travel and promotions that get in the way of doing their jobs.

Civil service workers used to put up with their frustrations because of the security that a government job once brought. But the dramatic downsizing of the Clinton years, when federal employment in the District of Columbia tumbled by more than one-sixth, changed all that. Company loyalty is an outdated notion in the company town these days.

These tensions have made civil service reform more than just a company-town concern. The costs to us all of a government without the right people in the right jobs are becoming painfully clear.

Consider the FBI's struggle with its "Trilogy" project, launched in 1999 to help the bureau upgrade its cumbersome computer system. FBI agents were struggling with ancient desktop computers and a database that sometimes required them to page through 11 screens to find a single piece of information.

Earlier this month, however, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III revealed that, after more than five years of work, Trilogy didn't function, and that $104 million invested in it had gone down the drain. Mueller bravely stepped forward to take the blame. But the Department of Justice's inspector general found that the failure was due to poor management decisions, inadequate program oversight and a lack of employees with the skills to handle such a sweeping project. Private contractors were building the system, but the FBI didn't have the ability to manage them.

After the Columbia shuttle accident in 2003, investigators likewise found that NASA had lost its in-house ability to assess whether a piece of insulation that struck the craft's wing on liftoff had presented a risk to the mission. That assessment instead fell to the private contractors who do 90 percent of the work on the shuttle project. This is symptomatic of a fundamental change in the company town: the rise of private contractors doing much of the government's work -- and government's difficulty in developing a workforce with the skills to manage them.

Though all parties agree that the civil service system desperately needs repair, no one trusts anyone else to wield the tools. Public employee unions and many Democrats are convinced that Republican "reform" means cutting programs, slashing positions, trying to wipe out the unions. Many Republicans are convinced that the unions and Democrats are busy digging a hopeless Maginot line to defend old-style government and out-of-date personnel protections.

But bit by bit, a series of crises has allowed some parts of the government to break free. In 1996, recurring problems in hiring air traffic controllers highlighted an impending air traffic control emergency. A year later, congressional hearings revealed widespread problems in the IRS, including accusations that its employees did not focus enough on serving citizens.

Congress subsequently allowed each agency to create its own personnel system. Top officials won the right to create "broadband" pay scales, which provided more flexibility for determining how much to pay employees. They also got more flexibility in hiring, transferring and rewarding workers. Public employee unions fought hard and retained whistleblower protections, veterans' preference, and protection of employee rights by the Merit Systems Protection Board.

The issue of civil service protections was a large part of the debate over creating the Department of Homeland Security after 9/11. President Bush at first strongly opposed the idea of a new Cabinet department. But just as Democrats appeared poised to push it through Congress, Bush shifted course. In a remarkably clever play, he became the proposal's biggest champion -- provided that the new agency would be allowed to operate under fundamentally different civil service rules.

Bobby Harnage Sr., national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, one of the government's largest unions, charged that the administration's pursuit of "flexibility" was just "a code word for denial of due process to federal employees," and that existing laws already gave top managers all the flexibility they needed.

But behind the political battles was the very real problem that the 22 existing agencies (including the Secret Service, the Coast Guard and others) being folded into the newly-created department had vastly different cultures and considerably overlapping responsibilities. Even more important, the new department faced challenges for which none of the agencies was fully prepared.

What emerged from the squabble tracked with what former Federal Reserve Board chairman Paul Volcker, who chaired two commissions on civil service reform, had long recommended: a government whose structure matches its missions, with related functions put in the same department, and where managers have more flexibility in recruiting, paying, managing and disciplining employees. But even though those pieces are in place at DHS, the department still lacks a sufficient internal brain, shaped by top career bureaucrats with enough institutional memory to guide the department through transitions like the current one, in which many of the top political positions are vacant.

Reform has to happen, but there are three big problems with the civil service system that's emerging. One is the piecemeal fashion in which current reform is taking place. The FAA and IRS have struggled to make their new system work. Employees are not always being assigned where they're needed, and morale problems have continued. The second problem is that the other half of the government continues to slog along with all the old problems and little hope of resolution. Third and perhaps most important, the fragmentation of the civil service is eating away at the ethos that once defined the company town.

"Right now, what we've got is everyone cutting their own deals," Comptroller General David Walker warned last December. What's missing, he said, is a "core set of values and principles" to define the job of the civil servant, "the glue that binds us together."

In its commitment to employment through merit instead of patronage, the old system once provided this glue. The rapid pace of change and the new challenges facing government have eaten away at it. But in the breathless press for change, the emerging civil service system is galloping ahead without a fresh sense of what the ethos of civil servants ought to be. There's a lot of talk about flexibility. There's a lot less talk about what that flexibility is for.

Still, with billions of taxpayer dollars -- and even lives -- at stake, something will have to give. Neither the company town nor the rest of the country can afford a public service that isn't up to the job.

 

Who Are the Better Managers  Political Appointees or Career Bureaucrats

By Shankar Vedantam
Monday, November 24, 2008; A06

Every time the White House changes hands between the Democrats and the Republicans, the outgoing party quickly sees the virtues of staffing government departments with competent managers. The incoming party invariably seeks to reward loyal campaign operatives with political appointments.

Presidents from Thomas Jefferson onward have grappled with opposing forces during their transitions to power: One school of thought argues that lots of political appointees can sweep away bureaucratic cobwebs. The other suggests that appointees mostly get in the way of the career professionals who really know how to make government work.

The United States has a far larger number of political appointees in government than any other industrialized democracy. Growing evidence suggests that while presidents and political parties appoint partisans in the belief that loyalists will drive the president's agenda forward, appointees may actually damage the long-term interests of both presidents and their parties.

Exhibit A for the negative effect that too many political appointees can have on the vitality of presidents and their parties, several political scientists said, is the outgoing administration of George W. Bush.

"Loyalty and ideology were valued over expertise, and policy and management suffered as a result," said Donald Moynihan, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. "Political appointees helped to handicap FEMA, which contributed to the dire response to Katrina. White House appointees tried to shape the judgments of the EPA on the causes of global warming. Political appointees pushed weak intelligence to make a case for the war on Iraq. They illegally politicized the selection of career positions in the Department of Justice. Inexperienced but politically connected appointees in the Coalition Provisional Authority failed to manage the rebuilding of Iraq."

In an unusual new analysis, another political scientist compared the Bush administration's own evaluations of more than 600 government programs with the backgrounds of the 242 managers who ran those programs. David E. Lewis, who is now at Vanderbilt University, found that three-quarters of the managers administering the programs were political appointees while a quarter were career civil servants.

The political appointees were better educated, on average, than the civil staff. Many had stellar records in the private sector or on the campaign trail. Side by side, the political appointees just looked like a much smarter bunch than the careerists.

When it came to performance, however, the bureaucrats whipped the politicals: Programs administered by civil servants were significantly more likely to display better strategic planning, program design, financial oversight -- and results. These findings, remember, were based on the Bush administration's own evaluation system -- the Program Assessment Rating Tool, administered by the Office of Management and Budget

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Lewis and Moynihan said presidents often forget that while political appointees may be whip-smart operatives, it is the career civil staffers who hold institutional knowledge about agencies -- and that the bureaucrats tend to stick around longer than the appointees. For all the hatred that political candidates aim at the Washington bureaucracy during campaigns, political interference rather than bureaucratic inertia appears to be the central driver of governmental incompetence.

There were 1,778 political appointees in 1960 and nearly double that number in 2004, not counting part-time, advisory and White House positions. The federal government grew dramatically in that period, too, but the number of political appointees grew nearly twice as fast, said Lewis, author of the book "The Politics of Presidential Appointments."

Lewis said President-elect Barack Obama would do well to reduce the number of political appointees by as much as a quarter, and to appoint career civil servants to positions typically given to political appointees.

Not everyone agrees that the United States has too many political appointees: Robert Maranto at the University of Arkansas argued that political appointees have poorer track records than bureaucrats because presidents may preferentially give them the toughest assignments. Moreover, Maranto said, amid rising political partisanship, presidents need to stock departments with people who understand politics and the increased importance of interaction with Congress, lobbyists and the media. If a president placed more civil servants in slots now occupied by politicals, he argued, this could expose bureaucrats to the kind of controversies that can jeopardize careers.

Lewis, however, said his analysis controlled for a number of confounding factors, including the difficulty of administering different programs. He said civil servants outperformed political appointees even when the analysis was restricted to comparably difficult programs.

There is a happy balance between political control and the civil service corps, the political scientist added: If presidents feel they have to build separate bureaucracies to duplicate agency functions, it probably means the bureaucrats are out of control. On the other hand, if government departments are having a difficult time recruiting and retaining high-quality people, it probably means that departments are suffering from excessive political interference.

Jim Pfiffner, a political scientist at George Mason University, went even further than Lewis and suggested the number of political appointees be slashed by a third -- but acknowledged this was unlikely to happen.

"Presidents want patronage and think it will help them control the government," he said. "But the increasing number of layers of political appointees attenuates rather than increases control from the top."

The message could not be clearer for all those Obama-campaign-operatives-turned-political-appointment- hunters: If they really want to know what they can do for their country, they shouldn't be asking their president what he can do for them.

Separating 'Spoils' and Service
Leave it to the ancient Chinese to think of it first. No, not fireworks, but the civil service -- the non-legislative, non-judicial, non-military branches of government that select their employees by competitive exam. In the United States, the civil service notion took root in the late 19th century, in reaction to the notorious "spoils system" (as in "to the victor belong the spoils"), by which elected politicians filled government jobs with their friends and supporters. In 1883, the Pendleton Act attempted to divorce civil service from political patronage. But it wasn't easy. As one New York politico declared: "You can't keep an organization together without patronage. Men ain't in politics for nothin'." Here are some key dates in the evolution of civil service:

CHINA
206 B.C.-220 A.D.
The Han dynasty uses competitive exams to select civil officials.

PRUSSIA
Mid-1600s
Frederick William, elector of Brandenburg, creates a civil administration staffed through competitive exams.

FRANCE
1790s-Early 1800s
Napoleonic reforms transform the royal service into a civil service.

UNITED STATES
1820s-60s
U.S. civilian workforce, 1821: 6,914
After President Andrew Jackson introduces the spoils system to federal government, lines of job-seekers form daily around the White House. With neither the rival Whig nor the Democratic parties dominant enough to hold on to the presidency, the constant changes in the workforce cripple the career service. Agitation for reform begins after the Civil War (1861-65). The excesses of New York City's Tammany Hall political machine also prompt calls for reform on the national level.

GREAT BRITAIN
1855
The civil service is established, strictly excluding British civil servants from politics.

UNITED STATES
1870s
U.S. civilian workforce, 1871:
51,020
In 1871, Congress authorizes President Ulysses S. Grant, whose administration is riddled with corruption, to appoint a Civil Service Commission, but it lasts just a few years. President Rutherford B. Hayes uses competitive testing to fill federal positions.

1880s
U.S. civilian workforce, 1881:
100,020
Reform efforts take off after President James Garfield's assassination in 1881 by a man believed to be a deranged office seeker. Two years later, the Pendleton Act re-establishes the Civil Service Commission, ending the practice of assessing federal workers a portion of their salary for the benefit of the political party that appointed them. The act makes it unlawful to fire or demote employees for political reasons and establishes the merit system in offices with more than 50 employees, covering about 10 percent of workers.

1889-1890s
U.S. civilian workforce, 1891:
157,442
Appointed to the Civil Service Commission, Theodore Roosevelt devotes himself to combating the still-entrenched spoils system. The number of jobs subject to competitive exams goes up, and women become eligible for civil service positions.

1900s
U.S. civilian workforce, 1901:
239,476
Involvement in party politics wanes as workforce professionalism rises.

1920s
U.S. civilian workforce, 1921:
561,141
Eighty percent of the civil service is operating under merit system rules.

1930s
U.S. civilian workforce, 1931:
609,746
FDR's New Deal creates numerous agencies whose staffs are not subject to the merit system, but new rules adopted in 1938 extend the system to 90 percent of the nation's 1.8 million civil employees.

1940s
U.S. civilian workforce, 1941:
1,437,682
The 1940 Hatch Act forbids campaign contributions by officeholders. The civil service expands to 3.8 million during World War II, but the merit system is virtually abandoned. Administrators begin to chafe at new procedures that make it difficult to remove poor workers.

1970s
U.S. civilian workforce, 1970:
2,981,574
Partly in response to corruption in the Nixon administration, the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 abolishes the Civil Service Commission, splitting its functions among the Office of Personnel Management, Federal Labor Relations Authority and Merit Service Protection Board.

1990s
U.S. civilian workforce, 1990:
3,128,267
New rules allow most civil servants to engage in political activity on their own time. Breaking with the civil service system, Congress allows the Federal Aviation Administration and the IRS to adopt new personnel rules.

2000s
U.S. civilian workforce, 2001:
2,709,956
A new personnel system is proposed for the newly created Department of Homeland Security. The Defense Department follows suit.

SOURCES: Infoplease.com, Reader's Companion to American History, Digital History, Historyalive.com, Federaltimes.com, U.S. Statistical Abstract

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