The New International Encyclopædia/Civil Service

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The New International Encyclopædia
Civil Service
Edition of 1905. See also Civil service on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

CIVIL SERVICE. The civil service of a State is, properly speaking, the entire body of public officials charged with the duty of conducting its civil administration. As commonly employed, however, the term does not include members of the military and naval establishments, nor members of the legislative branch of the Government; nor, generally, other elective officers. Indeed, in the popular connotation of the phrase, the direct representatives of the sovereignty, whether elective or appointive, are not usually included. Thus, neither the appointed members of the British Cabinet nor the elected President of the United States would usually be described as civil servants; while there is no doubt that the Viceroy of India and the Civil Governor of the Philippine Islands, as well as the members of the President's Cabinet, come under that designation. On the other hand, it is not usual to include within the description of the civil service mere laborers, though the method of their employment, their terms of office, and, sometimes, the nature of their duties, render it difficult to distinguish them from their co-employés of the State, who are undeniably within the common acceptation of the term.

The civil service of a modern civilized State is a very complex affair, consisting of a multitude of officers and civil servants of various grades, performing a great variety of highly differentiated functions, and grouped in various administrative departments. Some of the more important of these are modern additions to the functions of the State, while others are of great antiquity. Thus, the officers of the royal household in England, many of the officers of the courts of justice in Great Britain and the United States, can trace their offices back to the very beginnings of English history, while such great administrative departments as the Post-Office, the British Board of Trade, the United States Department of Agriculture and Interstate Commerce Commission are of recent origin. It is to the modern additions, especially to the institution of a postal service, that we owe the enormous increase in the number of public servants in the latter half of the nineteenth century. To this should be added, however, as contributing causes, the large increase in the number and size of cities in recent times, with the growing necessity for police protection, together with the assumption, by municipalities and by the State, of a variety of services and functions that were previously left to private enterprise; such as the cleaning of streets, the removal of waste, and the furnishing of a water-supply in cities, and, in some countries, the building and management of telegraph-lines, railways, and canals, and of irrigation-works on a large scale, by the general Government.

The British civil service now numbers about 80,000 officials of all grades. At the head stand the officers of the Royal Household, under several departments; then come the officers of the House of Lords and the House of Commons; then a vast number of offices or departments, of which the following are the more important: Treasury, home office, foreign office, colonial office, India office, war office, admiralty, board of trade, post-office, customs, inland revenue (including stamps, taxes, and excise), exchequer and audit office, office of woods and forests, office of works and buildings, Duchy of Lancaster, public-record office, local government board, education department, civil-service commission, registrar-general's office, stationery office, ecclesiastical commission, charity commission, patent-office, emigration office, Trinity House, herald's college, law and equity courts, ecclesiastical and admiralty courts, prisons department, British Museum, science and art department, diplomatic and consular corps. Several departments peculiar to Scotland and Ireland form distinct lists, not included in the above. The heads of most of the departments are political officers, changing with the Ministry. Others, such as the head of the exchequer and audit department, or the commissioners of customs and of inland revenue, are permanent officials. Excluding the judicial offices, and a few departments where special knowledge is required, the civil service is open to the public generally, the principle of open competition being in force as regards most of the departments. See Great Britain, paragraph on Government.

The civil administration of the Federal Government of the United States is confided to a body of upward of 100,000 officials. These are all included within the eight general departments of the National Government — the Departments of State, Justice, Interior, War, Navy, Treasury, Post-Office, and Agriculture — and Congress, though some of these contain a large number and variety of bureaus dealing with a great diversity of interests not logically related to the main business of the department. As examples of this incongruity, it is only necessary to mention the National Observatory, under the jurisdiction of the Navy Department, and the National Library, under that of Congress. The President is the great source of power in the American Federal system, all the officers of the Government, excepting the Vice-President, the members of the two Houses of Congress, and the employés of the latter, owing their offices to his appointment.

The curious identity of the governmental and administrative forms which have been adopted in the several States of the American Union is treated in the article United States, section on State Government. The result of this identity is, of course, a great similarity in the civil service of the States. In most of the States, the principal judicial officers and the heads of the great departments of administration, as well as the Governor and Lieutenant-Governor, are chosen by popular vote. Generally, each elective officer has the power to name his own subordinates, the Governor's appointing power being limited to his own clerks and secretaries and to the officials of certain bureaus or commissions, which do not come under the jurisdiction of the constitutional departments of administration. The restricted character of the functions of the States in our Federal system has thus far furnished no occasion for an extensive civil service, and, accordingly, the number of persons employed in that service in the State governments is very small compared with the number employed in the Federal service. The establishment of a State constabulary, or police system, or the assumption by the Commonwealth of the ownership and operation of telegraphs, railroads, or other great industrial enterprises, would of course enormously increase the civil service of the State.

In the modern city, on the other hand, by reason of the great diversity and extent of the functions of municipal government in our day, the number of civil servants is very great, and tends constantly to increase. Not only the purely governmental operations of a city government, as the maintenance of a police force and efficient local tribunals; not only its quasi-governmental functions, as the regulation and administration of a system of public instruction, the cleaning of streets, and the removal of waste; not only its gigantic business enterprises, as in supplying its citizens with water and gas, and the building and operation of bridges, systems of transportation, etc.; but also its administration of the property interests committed to its charge, as the docks, parks, streets, etc., call for a vast and complicated machinery of administration and an army of civil servants. American cities have generally reproduced, with great fidelity and uniformity, the type of municipal government brought over by our earliest city-builders from England. The head of the administration is a mayor, elected by popular vote, and with him are usually chosen a treasurer, comptroller, or other financial officer, and sometimes other heads of departments. But generally the power of appointment vested in the mayor is a large one, and often it extends to the appointment of most if not all of the chiefs of the several administrative departments of the local government. See City; Municipal Government.

Local political divisions, such as counties, towns, parishes, and school districts, present a greater diversity of governmental form and administration; but in the United States the number of appointive officers in those divisions is small, and in a general view of the subject of civil service they do not call for special consideration.

The method of appointment to the public service and the tenure of the civil servant vary greatly in England, according to the historical character of the service; in the United States, according to the jurisdiction and the rank of the official. High officers of State are appointed in Great Britain by royal warrant; in the United States, by commission. In the former country the complexity of the service is great, many public officers deriving their status from long usage, and being attended with privileges and immunities of immemorial force. Many of them are for life, many have the personal quality associated with the feudal tenure of land, and some are hereditary. Indeed, by the common law of England, public office was a species of real property, held by a tenure, like land, and vesting in the incumbent an estate, either for life or in fee. Even as late as the middle of the eighteenth century, offices are enumerated by Blackstone in his classification of real property as one of the class of incorporeal hereditaments. (See Office.) Today, however, most of the positions in the public service in England and all offices in the United States are, in law, regarded as held in trust for the public benefit; and though an appointment to office usually vests in the incumbent a certain definite right to perform its duties and enjoy its emoluments, it no longer entitles him to make merchandise of it, to alienate it, or to transmit it to his heirs. All public offices in the United States being of comparatively recent origin, and created by statute, there is much greater simplicity and uniformity in the mode of their creation and in the incidents of their tenure than in Great Britain. Comparatively few positions in the public service here are held by a life-tenure — the principal exceptions being high judicial positions in the Federal service and in a few of the States. In many cases an office is held at the will of the appointing power, and by statute a large proportion of the positions in the Federal service are held by a four years' tenure. See Tenure-of-Office Act.

The power of appointment to the public service, even when, as is usually the case, unrestricted in theory, may be practically limited by custom, by the despotism of political party control, or, as in the case of the President of the United States, by the operation of self-imposed rules. The British Parliament, and many of the United States, have enacted laws restricting the exercise of the power of appointments, and prescribing the qualifications for the civil service, and providing for an impartial method of selection among the candidates for office; and in several States these provisions have been embodied in the Constitution. The object of these laws being to raise the moral tone and improve the efficiency of the civil service by eliminating, so far as possible, political motives for appointments, and by securing to the incumbents of public office independence of external control, whether personal or political, some form of the so-called ‘merit system’ (q.v.) has generally been adopted. Similar boards exist in New York and in many other cities to govern appointments to municipal office. This system will be fully described under that title; but it may be noticed, here, that it is based on the principle of competitive examinations, conducted by a board of administrative officers known usually as ‘Civil-Service Commissioners.’ The results of the examinations and the rating of the candidates are reported by the Civil-Service Board to the appointing officer, who makes his selection from among the names so certified to him, as the law may direct.

The power of appointment being vested in the President of the United States by the Federal Constitution, it is not within the power of Congress to fetter his action by the enactment of similar laws. The merit system has, however, been extensively applied by the voluntary action of the President, most of the great departments of the Government being now wholly or in large part under its operation — the most conspicuous exceptions being the post-offices, the consular service, and the Census Bureau.

In many of the States, by law, and in some departments of the Federal Administration by executive order, the independence of civil servants has been further secured by provisions restricting the power of removal from office, in many cases by providing for a definite tenure, and in others by requiring the removing officer to file his reasons for making the proposed removal, and to give the accused official an opportunity to be heard in his own defense. In still other cases, where the tenure is for life, or ‘during good behavior,’ the action of the removing officer may be reviewed by the courts, and the removed official reinstated if the grounds for the removal are deemed by the court to be insufficient. Generally, however, where the tenure is not permanent, the provisions above described operate solely as a check on hasty and inconsiderate action, and as securing to the civil servant reasonable notice and the consideration of his claims upon the office, and vest no power of review in the courts. It has been judicially determined that the civil-service rules promulgated by the President of the United States do not have the force of general law, and confer upon members of the service no right to invoke the aid of the courts to protect them against violation thereof. They are the President's law, and he alone can enforce them. The general effect of the adoption of the merit system and of the legislation last referred to has been most salutary. The evils at which these laws were aimed, and the history of the popular movement which resulted in their general adoption, will be found set forth in the article on Civil-Service Reform. See Ashley, The American Federal State (New York, 1902); Anson, Law and Custom of the Constitution (Oxford, 1892); Eaton, Civil Service in Great Britain (New York, 1880); Goodnow, Comparative Administrative Law (New York, 1893); and the authorities referred to under Civil-Service Reform.