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One of the most important reforms in US history was the Pendleton Act. And yet...

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Bucky Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-22-09 11:55 AM
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One of the most important reforms in US history was the Pendleton Act. And yet...
And yet it took decades for it to have any real effect on the problem it was supposed to fix--the corruption in federal politics due to the spoils system. Back in the 1870 & 80s, whenever a new president took office, he had the option of firing pretty much all the federal employees not in the military. Right after the Civil War that was about 50,000 employees. By 1880, it meant almost 120,000 jobs up for grabs with each new administration. When a disgruntled job seeker flipped out and murdered the president in 1881, reformers started pushing for a fix to this abuse-and-corruption-inclined system.

Congress finally got around to passing the Pendleton Civil Service Act in 1883. To get the law passed, reformers had to cut deals with moderates and other reluctant allies in order to get the deal done. By the time the legislation was signed, only 19,000 government jobs ended up being protected from political firing by the new system of Civil Service exams--about 15% of the jobs. By 1900 that number gradually climbed to include about half of all federal employees. Today upward of 95% of government professional employees get to keep their jobs from administration to administration.

The key to this victory was (1) confidence in the eventual success of the reform and (2) a willingness among the advocates of reform to accept gradual changes on a long established, entrenched system controlled by the friends and lackeys of millionaires.

I toss this example out without it being necessarily relevant to any current efforts of reform facing Congress today.

yeah, right...
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