Civil Service Systems in Comparative Perspective series
Edited by John Halligan
Chapter 7: Civil service and administrative reform in the United States
Patricia W. Ingraham and Donald P. Moynihan INTRODUCTION The United States has been called an ‘uninteresting laggard’ in its efforts at civil service and other administrative reform (Aucoin 1995). While this might strike some – particularly those associated with governmental reform – as unduly harsh, there is no question that US reforms have followed a pattern that is incremental and, in most respects, well behind the curve of administrative reform in many other western democracies. In the 20-plus years since the passage of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, the complex foundation of civil service law in the United States has remained essentially untouched (Ingraham 1995). Much of the context for reform efforts in the US was similar to that in other western democracies and in ‘benchmark’ NPM (new public management) countries – Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Australia. Diminished resources, budget deficits, political commitment to more entrepreneurial public organisations, downsizing and devolution were all factors. Leaving aside the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, which most observers now describe as a series of modest incremental changes, proposals for serious change did not occur in the US until after 1992, by which time other major nations had seen substantial public sector reform (Pfiffner and Brooks 2000). If, as we argue, the description ‘laggard’ is merited, why did the US not follow the pattern of these other democracies in terms of the rapidity and comprehensiveness of public sector reform? When efforts at reform did occur – primarily under the auspices of the...
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