Public Servants, Political Activities and Policy Advocacy
Elgie McFayden Jr.
Kentucky State University
March 21, 2008
By the late 1800's United States policy makers realized they had to adopt a model for selecting public servants based on job related requirements. The model would have to separate career public servants from politics and the unorthodox and often non-standardized approach to policy and program implementation employed by the ever changing administrations. The selection of employees based on merit and limited political influence could lead to a standardization in terms of policy implementation and equity in service delivery. The assassination of President James Garfield in 1881 by a person seeking employment was the event which finally compelled policy makers to act. Congress went on to pass the Pendleton Act of 1883 which established the Civil Service Commission and implemented a system of merit employment for most federal employees. In 1939 the United States Congress passed the Hatch Act, the legislation limited the political activities of public servants at all levels of government. This paper examines the relationship between career merit system employees and changing political administrations. While the merit system provides a clear division between administrations and career public servants and makes it possible for merit employees to carry out their duties based on a legislative charge, there still appears to be inequities in this system. The system limits the extent to which administrations can influence how agencies carry out their missions, however, it does not limit the impact merit employees have on how policies are formulated and implemented. Essentially, policy makers rely on information and expertise from career public servants to help them make informed policy decisions. This gives career merit system employees the opportunity be policy advocates. This paper is an attempt to determine whether not career merit system employees should be policy advocates particularly when they have the knowledge, experience and expertise in areas which could lead to greater efficiency, savings and an overall improvement in the quality of service. More importantly, when merit employees become policy advocates, does this constitute a political activity and does this activity run counter to the underlying premise of the Hatch Act of 1939.
Keywords: Public service, Hatch Act, Political Activities, merit employment, civil service reform, James Garfield
JEL Classification: Z00, D7, H5, H7
Date posted: March 23, 2008