Renewing the Civil Service

in The People's Agents and the Battle to Protect the American Public

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print June 2010 | ISBN: 9780226772028
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226772042 | DOI:
Renewing the Civil Service

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American government cannot possibly be strong, effective, and efficient—not least in the arena of health and safety policy—without the renewal of its battered civil service. But powerful cultural and political trends pull the weight of history against such reforms. The civil service is beleaguered by excessive layers of review, constant second-guessing, scant public recognition, insufficient resources, and growing disparity between public and private sector pay scales. This chapter argues that political leaders, especially the president and senior members of Congress, must distinguish between “macropolicy” decisions best made by elected officials and “micropolicy” decisions that should be left to the professional civil service in consultation with the political appointees who lead the five agencies. It begins with a brief history of the civil service, describing the model of neutral competence that a century of arduous change was designed to produce. It explains the distinctions drawn between the exercise of neutral competence and decisions more appropriately centralized in the White House, using examples from the recent history of the CPSC, OSHA, and the EPA. It considers the most significant problems confronting efforts to revive the career civil service, including the “brain drain” that will deplete its crucial midlevel management, the disparities in pay that propel the best employees out the door, the “thickening” of supervision that depletes initiative and accountability, and the poor image of government that confounds recruitment of qualified replacements.

Keywords: civil service; president; Congress; macropolicy; micropolicy; CPSC; OSHA; EPA

Chapter.  10654 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Environment and Energy Law

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