Published online by Cambridge University Press: 27 April 2009
The year 2003 marks the twentieth-fifth anniversary of the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA) of 1978, a late chapter in the development of the American administrative state and the most significant reform of the civil service system since its creation through the Pendleton Act of 1883. The Act made a number of enduring contributions to the personnel system of the federal government. Given the recursive nature of public management debate, there is considerable policy importance in trying to understand the original basis of decisions on legislation that have shaped the federal government over the last twenty-five years, and the CSRA has recently been the subject of renewed interest. More important, the CSRA was a rare and relatively important shift in the beliefs and attitudes—the administrative doctrine—that shape the evolution of the administrative state. Significantly, the debate during the CSRA saw the emergence of deep divisions within administrative doctrine, divisions that continue to shape public management policymaking.
1. Pfiffner, James P. and Brook, Douglas A., eds., The Future of Merit: Twenty Years After the Civil Service Reform Act (Washington, D.C., 2000)Google Scholar. The authors in Pfiffner and Brook are primarily interested in reassessing the CSRA in terms of its impact from a variety of contemporary perspectives, such as performance and accountability and globalization and the changing state. By contrast, this article undertakes original research to reassess the CSRA from the perspective of its framers, before linking to the contemporary public management debate.
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10. Exemplary works include Cohen, Richard E., Washington at Work: Back Rooms and Clean Air (Boston, 1995)Google Scholar; Johnson, Haynes and Broder, David, The System: The American Way of Politics at the Breaking Point (Boston, 1996)Google Scholar; Maraniss, David and Weisskopf, Michael, Tell Newt to Shut Up! (New York, 1996)Google Scholar; Marmor, Ted, The Politics of Medicare, 2d ed. (New York, 2000)Google ScholarPubMed; Redman, Eric (1973), The Dance of Legislation (New York, 1973)Google Scholar. The works cited also highlight the high frequency of journalists in undertaking these analyses.
11. QSR NUDIST allows analysis of data using a hierarchical coding system. The software is flexible enough to allow both inductive and deductive coding and modification of the coding structure to facilitate the dialogue of themes, concepts, and evidence. As codes are established, the definition of what each code means may be attached, as well as memos on the emerging trends that are associated with a particular code. The software is therefore ideal for the type of research undertaken here. It allows for the creation of broad codes that facilitate descriptive information of the legislative process, deductive codes based on the legislative outcomes, and inductively created codes based on the case evidence. For more information, see Gahan, Celia and Hannibal, Mike, Doing Qualitative Research Using QSR Nudist (London, 1998).Google Scholar
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18. Common Cause and other public-interest groups had been actively involved in researching and exposing what they saw as the politicization of the merit system under Nixon. See Newland, “The Politics of Transition,” 206–8.
19. The proposals that the president sent to Congress in March 1978 reflected an even stronger flexibility perspective than the final legislative outcomes described in Table 1, in large part because the original proposal did not include a labor-relations title sought by public employee unions. However, it became clear that the unions would succeed in having a title added, and the administration sent labor-relations language to Congress in May, which, after some significant revision in the House, would become Title VII.
20. Ingraham, Patricia W. and Moynihan, Donald P., “Evolving Dimensions of Performance from the CSRA to the Present,” in Pfiffner, James P. and Brook, Douglas A., eds., The Future of Merit (Washington, D.C., 2000).Google Scholar
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24. While a negative attitude toward bureaucracy characterized both Carter's presidential campaign and the public campaign for the CSRA, Carter himself did not have a strongly negative view of public employees. Howard Messner of the OMB recalls this in a meeting with the president: “The President expressed his awareness of growing public attitudes but stressed that he did not want to develop a posture that pitted him against ‘his fellow workers.’ To do this, he stated, would undermine his efforts to achieve substantial programmatic changes. In other words, if the employees felt that they didn't like him, and he was alienated from them, it wouldn't help him change the government” (#23, 21).
25. Hood and Jackson, Administrative Ar gument. Such a style of doctrinal-based argumentation continues to recur in public management debate, despite an increased focus on social scientific research in public administration.
26. Frederick Thayer makes a similar point, suggesting that while the pay-for-performance aspect of the CSRA was linked to expectancy theory, the evidence supporting such theory was weak, and the CSRA was relying on a “dubious mythology” that did not match public-sector needs; Thayer, , “The President's Management ‘Reform’: Theory X Triumphant,” Public Administration Review 48 (07–08 1978): 311Google Scholar. Later empirical research on pay-for-performance systems in the public sector found them to be largely unsuccessful: Kellough, J. Edward and Lu, Haoran, “The Paradox of Merit Pay in the Public Sector: Persistence of a Problematic Procedure,” Review of Public Personnel Administration 13, no. 2 (Spring 1993): 45–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Ingraham, Patricia W., “Of Pigs in Pokes and Policy Diffusion: Another Look at Pay-for-Performance,” Public Administration Review 53 (06–08 1993): 348–356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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29. From an interest-group perspective, Mancur Olson examines the difficulties larger groups encounter in seeking public goods, and the relative success of smaller groups in organizing; Olson, , The Logic of Collective Action (Cambridge, 1971)Google Scholar. From a legislative viewpoint, R. Douglas Arnold offers a formal model that distinguishes the costs and benefits of general public versus specific group perspectives on policies and how they affect congressional preferences; Arnold, , The Logic of Congressional Action (New Haven, 1990).Google Scholar
30. Both senators had developed a series of amendments intended to avert what they saw as politicization of the career civil service. Several negotiations with the administration failed to produce a compromise until the senators and Carter met directly. Once the broad outlines of a consensus were reached, Carter ordered staff from both sides to remain in the White House until specific compromise legislative language was crafted. The amendments served to limit the power of the OPM, classify some positions as career-reserved, and strengthen the oversight powers of the MSPB.
31. This observation fits with well-established assumptions about member preferences to establish an acceptable voting record to further the prospect of reelection, especially in issues where certain constituencies, such as the American Legion, follow roll-call activity closely. Arnold, R. Douglas, Congress and the Bur eaucracy: A Theory of Influence (New Haven, 1979), 26–28.Google Scholar
32. The importance of values and symbols in politics has been well recounted by Edelman, Murray, The Symbolic Uses of Politics (Chicago, 1964).Google Scholar
33. Skrowronek, Building a New American State, 68.
34. Campbell notes that “we made some of the language somewhat more fuzzy than I had hoped it would be, and we're now paying the price for that as these matters are negotiated out and the Federal Labor Relations Authority is going to have to make a lot of decisions on matters that aren't clear” (#2–1, 24).
35. Ink, Dwight, “What Was Behind the 1978 Civil Service Reform?” in Pfiffner, James P. and Brook, Douglas A., eds., The Future of Merit (Washington, D.C., 2000), 54.Google Scholar
36. Shefter, “Party, Bureaucracy, and Political Change in the United States.”
37. Huddleston, Mark W. and Boyer, William W., The Higher Civil Service in the United States: Quest for Reform (Pittsburgh, 1996).Google Scholar
38. U.S. Office of Personnel Management, The Fact Book, Federal Civilian Workforce Statistics, 1998 Edition (Washington, D.C., 1998), 68.Google Scholar
39. For a summary of the New Public Management, see Barzelay, Michael, Explaining the New Public Management: Improving Research and Policy Dialogue (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2001)Google Scholar. See especially chapter 4 for an analysis of contemporary administrative doctrine and desirable standards for administrative argument.
40. Ink, “What Was Behind the 1978 Civil Service Reform?” 44.
42. Ingraham and Ban, Legislating Bur eaucratic Reform, Introduction.
43. The propensity of the public employment system to reflect a mixture of contradictory goals is not a new idea, and in fact it might be considered more the norm than the exception. Herbert Kaufman highlighted this tendency, noting how cycles of reforms pursue the seemingly mutually exclusive goals of representativeness, neutral competence, and leadership; Kaufman, , “Emerging Conflicts in the Doctrines of Public Administration,” American Political Science Review 50 (December 1956): 1057–1073.CrossRefGoogle Scholar