Collier's New Encyclopedia (1921)/Civil Service

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CIVIL SERVICE, that branch of the public service which includes the non-military servants of the government.

The purpose of the civil-service act, as declared in its title, is to regulate and improve the civil service of the United States.” It provides for the appointment of three commissioners, not more than two of whom shall be adherents of the same political party, and makes it the duty of the commission to aid the President, as he may request, in preparing suitable rules for carrying the act into effect. The act requires that the rules shall provide, among other things, for open competitive examinations for testing the fitness of applicants for the classified service, the making of appointments from among those passing with highest grades, an apportionment of appointments in the departments at Washington among the States and Territories, a period of probation before absolute appointment, and the prohibition of the use of official authority to coerce the political action of any person or body. The act also provides for investigations touching the enforcement of the rules, and forbids, under penalty of fine or imprisonment, or both, the solicitation by any person in the service of the United States of contributions to be used for political purposes from persons in such service, or the collection of such contributions by any person in a government building.

The commission was organized on March 9, 1883. The first classification of the service applied to the departments at Washington and to postoffice and custom houses having as many as 50 employees, embracing 13,294 employees. The commission then consisted of three commissioners, the chief examiner, secretary, stenographer, and messenger boy. On June 30, 1917. there were 517,805 officers and employees in the executive civil service, of which 326,899 held positions subject to competitive examination under the civil service rules. On June 30, 1920, the total number of employees was approximately 640,000, Examinations are held in the principal cities throughout the country through the agency of local boards of examiners, of which there are approximately 3,000. The members of these boards are detailed from other branches of the service. During the fiscal year ended June 30, 1919, the commission examined 438,259 persons, and of this number 179,533 were appointed. The present force of the commission consists of 287 clerks and examiners and 37 sub-clerical employees at Washington, and 12 district secretaries and 29 clerks and examiners in the field service. The expenditure for salaries in the Executive Civil Service is over $200,000,000 a year.

The commission also holds examinations in Hawaii, Porto Rico, and the Philippine Islands. Under the rules, it is required to render all practicable assistance to the Philippine Civil Service Board.

Appointments of unskilled laborers in the departments at Washington and in the large cities are required to be made in accordance with regulations promulgated by the President, restricting appointments to applicants who are rated highest in physical condition. This system is outside the civil service act, and is auxiliary to the civil service rules.

Similar provisions have been made in most of the States and their political subdivisions.