International Handbook on Civil Service Systems
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International Handbook on Civil Service Systems

Edited by Andrew Massey

While there is no universally accepted definition of civil servant and civil service, this authoritative and informative Handbook compares and contrasts various approaches to organising the structure and activities of different civil service systems.
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Chapter 7: The United States Civil Service

J. Theodore Anagnoson


J. Theodore Anagnoson The United States civil service is different from those of many other countries because of the federal nature of the US governmental system, resulting in a civil service that is not one, but literally hundreds of different civil services for each of the states and many of their subunits. With 33 per cent of the gross domestic product in the public sector, the US has a total at all levels of government of over 21 million civil servants, but only three million of them work for the federal government (OECD 2007).1 The system is thus huge, decentralized and fragmented, with both parties and the public treating the civil service as a political tool and symbol (Peters 1993). Compounding the fragmentation is the political division that has divided the country in the last several elections, expressed in particular over attitudes toward government programmes, services, and the civil service. The American public has a complicated relationship with the public sector in general and with civil servants in particular, a combination of thanks and admiration for a few mixed with profound distrust of the public sector and a pervasive desire for limited government, still – even in the twenty-first century – very actively expressed. 7.1 HISTORICAL CONTEXT The US civil service dates back prior to the American Revolution (1783) to the appointment of colonial governors, who were appointed ‘largely through privilege, influence, and favouritism. Merit . . . played some part, but in a large proportion of cases it was subordinate’ (Osgood 1904–7,...

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