This article was written by Barry M Mitnick, Pitt Professor of Business Administration and Public and International Affairs, for The Conversation Faculty members and researchers interested in learning more about publishing to The Conversation can read about the process here

The federal government’s core civilian workforce has long been known for their professionalism. Approximately 21 million impartial career officials provide vital public services in fields as diverse as agriculture, national parks, defense, homeland security, environmental protection, and veterans affairs

To receive the vast majority of these “competitive service jobs” that are protected from easy dismissal, federal employees must demonstrate performance in job-specific knowledge, skills and abilities that are superior to other applicants and, in some cases, pass an exam Public service is designed to be based on merit ”

From Andrew Jackson to Theodore Roosevelt, much of the federal workforce has undergone changes after each presidential election – and often known as the loot system, that pattern of political patronage, where officials award allies with jobs in return for their support, ended in the late 19th century Century, when citizens and politicians like Roosevelt were fed up with corruption, incompetence and inefficiency – and his role in the assassination of a president

Less than two weeks before election day, Donald Trump signed an executive order threatening the return of the US to a loot system in which a large part of the federal government’s workforce could be fired for no or little reason – including an alleged lack of loyalty to the president

While President Joe Biden will likely reverse the order, its effects may not be so easily reversible, and he may have reasons of his own for keeping it in place temporarily

The government of the early republic was small, but the question of whether officials should be selected on the basis of patronage or skill was fiercely debated

Although George Washington and the five presidents who followed him undoubtedly held the patronage, they emphasized dates in the appointment

Washington wrote that reliance on personal relationship with the applicant would be “an absolute barrier to preferential treatment” and wanted those “who I believe best fit to serve the roles of the departments for which they are appointed should “He wouldn’t even appoint his own soldiers to government positions if they lacked the necessary qualifications

Jackson came into office as a reformer with the promise of ending elite domination and corrupt politics. He believed that access to government offices – and the frequent turnover through a four-year “rotation in office” – served the ideals of democratic participation could, regardless of qualification for a position

As a result, at his inaugural reception on 4 By March, a large crowd of office-seekers received the reception. Jackson was “besieged by job applicants” and “battalions of hopefuls” all looking for government jobs

Rather than preventing corruption from taking hold, Jackson’s rotation policy became an opportunity for patronage – or rewarding followers with the spoils of victory. He defended the practice by stating, “If my personal friends are qualified and patriotic, why should.” am I not allowed to grant them a few offices? “

Office seekers were expected to pay “assessments” – a percentage of their salary between 2% and 7% – to the party who appointed them, in addition to the lack of adequate skills and commitment

While President Joe Biden will likely reverse the order, its effects may not be so easily reversible, and he may have reasons of his own for keeping it in place temporarily

Although Jackson replaced only about 10% of the federal workforce and 41% of president appointments, the practice became increasingly the norm as subsequent presidents fired and refused to reappoint ever larger portions of the government

The pinnacle of the loot system was James Buchanan, who served from 1857-1861. He replaced William L with virtually every federal employee at the end of his “rotation” Marcy, who was Secretary of State under Buchanan’s predecessor and who was the first to describe the patronage as “prey”, wrote in 1857 that officials in his administration were “hunted like wild animals” “

Even Abraham Lincoln, who succeeded Buchanan, used the system extensively, replacing at least 1457 of the 1st639 officials who were then subject to presidential nomination had it not been for the secession of the southern states, which put some federal officials out of reach, the number would have been higher

The tide began to turn in the late 1860s after it became public knowledge that jobs had been created that required little or no work and other abuses, including those appointed by illiterates, and a Congressional report on the success of public systems Service in Great Britain, China, France and Prussia

In 1870 President Ulysses S Grant urged Congress to take action, complaining, “The current system does not secure the best men, and often not even suitable men, for public space. Congress responded with laws empowering the president to use executive orders to rule for to prescribe public service This power exists today, most recently exercised in Trump’s own order

Grant set up a public service commission that led to some reforms, but just two years later a hostile Congress cut off new funds and Grant ended the experiment in March 1875, and the number of potentially open positions for the patronage continued to rise and doubled from 51020 in 1871 to 100020 in 1881

But about the US.Citizens were disgusted by a government filled with the people known as “spoilers,” leading to a growing reform movement The assassination of President James Garfield in 1881 by a troubled seeker who believed Garfield had given him that of Denied diplomatic post in Paris he wanted, brought the movement over the edge

Garfield’s murder has largely been attributed to the loot system. George William Curtis, editor of Harper’s Weekly and advocate of reform, published cartoons lambasting the system and called it “a great public evil”

In early 1883, immediately after an election that resulted in sweeping wins for politicians in favor of reform, Congress passed the Pendleton Act. The civil service system for the selection and promotion of merit was created. The law banned “assessments,” and conducted competitive tests held open competitions for jobs and prevented officials from being fired for political reasons

Roosevelt was appointed to the new commission to oversee the system by President Benjamin Harrison in 1889 and quickly became its driving force – even when Harrison himself abused the loot system and, for example, 43823 of 58623 postmasters replaced

The system initially comprised only 105% of the federal workforce, but it was gradually expanded to cover most workers. Under Roosevelt, who became president in 1901 after William McKinley was assassinated, the number of insured employees eventually exceeded the number of uninsured employees in the Year 1904 and soon reached nearly two-thirds of all federal jobs At its peak in the 1950s, the competitive public service comprised nearly 90% of federal employees

New York, where Roosevelt was a MP, and Massachusetts were the first states to introduce their own civil service systems.Although such systems are now in place in all states at the local, state, or both levels, most states did not have one until after 1940 competitive civil service introduced

The Oct The appointment created a new category of public service workers, referred to as “Schedule F”, which includes all currently protected employees in career positions that are “confidential, policy-making, policy-promoting, or politically advocate” As vague as it is broad, it can apply to as many as hundreds of thousands of the 2.1 million civil federal employees – possibly any worker who gives advice or makes decisions in their own discretion

The first agency to report a list of insured workers, the Bureau of Administration and Household, identified 425 professionals – 88% of their employees – as transferable to Schedule F, meaning they could be fired at will

Although the order didn’t officially go into effect until January 19, some agencies had already taken action to do so – including an apparent “purge” of career workers who were deemed not sufficiently loyal to Trump, but the Trump administration was unable to fully implement Schedule F before Biden took office in January 20

Of course, Biden could quickly reverse the order – and there is already a bipartisan push to ban these transfers – but hiring people who have been laid off won’t be straightforward or immediate

In addition, Trump had attempted to “dig” political candidates deep into the Senior Executive Service, the top tier of the civil service. The dig included the controversial appointment of Michael Ellis as General Counsel of the National Security Agency Under the rules of the Senior Executive Service some political officers are converted to civil servants This could protect them from being easily removed by Biden

Biden may wish to remove officials who are considered Trump loyalists and are trying to undermine his policies, in which case he will have to maintain the Executive Order to expedite the process and move those employees to the new Schedule F classification that will allow him would remove them. However, adherence to and use of Schedule F even for a relatively short period of time calls into question the most fundamental principles of public service

Trump’s order and Biden’s dilemma show that Teddy Roosevelt’s work is not finished. If a president can undo more than a century of reforms on a whim, the civil service remains inadequately isolated from politics and patronage. It might be time that the Congress passed new law permanently protecting one of America’s proudest achievements from becoming yet another dysfunctional part of the US Government

Andrew Jackson

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