Published October 1978 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd Fine-Tuning the Bureaucracy “POSITION WANTED, a gentleman who is well-qualified to be a government clerk is willing to pay a portion of his salary every month to anyone who will get him a place in the Departments.” The above classified ad appeared in a mid-1800s newspaper, where it was not uncommon to see offers of cash or monthly payments for help in securing a federal government job in Washington. In the last century, government jobs were openly bought and sold or doled out through the infamous “spoils system.” Federal jobs were used as payoffs for political support, so that every time a new administration came to town, employees appointed under the old administration were fired and replaced by new office seekers. Apart from the graft and corruption bred by the spoils system, there was almost no continuity in government. The public was understandably outraged, but reform was slow in coming. Only after the assassination of President Garfield by a disappointed job seeker, did Congress create the Civil Service system in 1883. The new system was expected to correct the abuses by establishing a permanent bureaucracy of employees hired for their qualifications rather than their political connections. Over the years, however the pendulum has swung too far in a protective reaction to the spoils system. By trying to prevent political patronage abuses, the Civil Service has become mired in paperwork and policies that make it almost impossible to fire incompetent workers, reward excellent job performances or speedily hired new workers. Studies show that it takes an average of seven months to hire a mid-level white-collar worker and up to three years to fire an unsatisfactory employee. President Carter made reform of the civil service a high priority of his new administration. I am pleased to report that Congress has approved the administration's reform legislation, which simplifies and expedites hiring and firing procedures, provides a system of pay incentives, and creates an elite corps of senior executives that trade some job security for a chance at higher pay for top performances. All of us will benefit from a revitalized civil service, because in the long run, the result will be a more efficient and better-run service.