Civil Service

Imagine trying out for a sports team in high school where someone determines whether you have the necessary skills and abilities to make the team. If the principals' or coaches' children automatically make the team, you, along with many other would-be participants, would immediately protest citing privilege and favoritism. In the world of employment, civil service jobs were once divvied out through a system of favoritism and other unfair practices too. In fact, the old system even led to death. Such tragedies led to a wholesale reform in the civil service system. In this summary, we'll explore the civil service system as well as the commission that oversees the multitude of government workers.

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A civil service test is typically required to get many ____jobs.

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The largest class is of federal jobs is called the competitive service.  These are Civil Service jobs that are open to all eligible applicants, selected on merit, and determined by tests and time in grade.

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Civil service refers to government service including elected or appointed positions. 

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The practice of awarding government jobs to political supporters was known as...

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In 1881, President ___ ____ was assassinated by Charles Guiteau, a disgruntled and mentally unstable office seeker upset with the new President's civil service reform goals.

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In 1883, Congress passed a law resuming funding for the Civil Service Commission and requiring civil service exams for government jobs. This was called the ________Act.

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How long was President Garfield in office?

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Civil Service tests are designed to ensure___and ability.

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The Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act aimed to limit the practice of political patronage.

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What happened to the Civil Service Commission in 1978?

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A civil service test is typically required to get many ____jobs.

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  • + Add tag
  • Immunology
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  • Mo

The largest class is of federal jobs is called the competitive service.  These are Civil Service jobs that are open to all eligible applicants, selected on merit, and determined by tests and time in grade.

Show Answer
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  • Immunology
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Civil service refers to government service including elected or appointed positions. 

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  • Immunology
  • Cell Biology
  • Mo

The practice of awarding government jobs to political supporters was known as...

Show Answer
  • + Add tag
  • Immunology
  • Cell Biology
  • Mo

In 1881, President ___ ____ was assassinated by Charles Guiteau, a disgruntled and mentally unstable office seeker upset with the new President's civil service reform goals.

Show Answer
  • + Add tag
  • Immunology
  • Cell Biology
  • Mo

In 1883, Congress passed a law resuming funding for the Civil Service Commission and requiring civil service exams for government jobs. This was called the ________Act.

Show Answer
  • + Add tag
  • Immunology
  • Cell Biology
  • Mo

How long was President Garfield in office?

Show Answer
  • + Add tag
  • Immunology
  • Cell Biology
  • Mo

Civil Service tests are designed to ensure___and ability.

Show Answer
  • + Add tag
  • Immunology
  • Cell Biology
  • Mo

The Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act aimed to limit the practice of political patronage.

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What happened to the Civil Service Commission in 1978?

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Table of contents

    Civil Service Definition

    Civil service refers to the sector of government made up of civil servants who are selected on the basis of professional merit rather than through elections or appointments. Civil servants can work on the federal, state, or local levels of the United States government.

    Civil Service System

    The practice of awarding government jobs to political supporters is known as political patronage. Also known as the spoils system, government jobs often changed hands when new members of congress and presidents took office. After the American Civil War, a push to reform this age-old practice and create a fair path to government employment was pushed by congress and various presidents.

    Before the Civil War, the Jacksonian era of political party influence was directly connected to government service jobs. The concept of career public service in unelected positions was unrealistic, as large numbers of jobs changed hands once a new political party came to power in Washington. Those who campaigned for the election victors were rewarded with government jobs that lasted until a new party candidate took power.

    The federal bureaucratic inefficiencies of the spoils system were addressed by President Grant soon after the Civil War came to end. The former Union general initiated short-lived reform.

    Civil Service,1872 Harper's Weekly cartoon depicting President Grant serving medicinal gruel (civil service reform) to reluctant U.S. Senators, StudySmarter

    1872 Harper's Weekly cartoon depicting President Grant serving medicinal gruel (civil service reform) to reluctant U.S. Senators, Wikimedia Commons.

    Timeline of Civil Service Reform

    1871 - President Grant signs the first Congressional legislation creating civil service reform: The Civil Service Commission is created.

    1874 - Congress fails to renew funding for the Civil Service Commission

    1881 - President Garfield was shot and later died. Garfield was a vocal supporter of civil service reform.

    1883 - President Arthur (Garfield's Vice President) lobbied Congress and harnessed mass public support for civil service reform. The result was the Pendleton Act (Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act) which resumed congressional funding for the Civil Service Commission. The requirement of civil service exams for government jobs limited the practice of political patronage.

    1978 - President Jimmy Carter signs a bill ending the Civil Service Commission.

    Almost 100 years later, congress reexamined the practices and structure of the Civil Service. In 1978, congress passed the Civil Service Reform Act replacing the Civil Service Commission with three new government agencies:

    • Office of Personnel Management

    • Federal Labor Relations Authority

    • Merit Systems Protection Boar

    Civil Service Commission

    The Pendleton Civil Service Act authorized the creation of a three-member independent commission that functioned outside the Presidential Cabinet. The Civil Service Commission altered the process by which the multitudes of federal workers earned their jobs and were promoted.

    Initially, 14 percent of federal jobs would be filled through an examination process rather than through the traditional political appointee system. The Pendleton Act also made it illegal to terminate or demote government officials for political justifications. The resulting merit-based system gradually became the basis for most federal hires.

    FACT: Theodore Roosevelt was the Commissioner of the U.S. Civil Service Commission from 1889-1895. The high-profile reformer served as President of the New York City Board of Police Commissioners at the same time. He would go on to serve as Governor of New York, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, serve in the Spanish-American War, and win the Vice-Presidency. Roosevelt became President after William McKinley was assassinated in 1901.

    Civil Service, Photo of job applicants completing paperwork in 1955,  StudySmarterCivil Service applicants completing applications through the Civil Service Commission - 1955, Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons.

    Civil Service and a Presidential Assassination

    On July 2, 1881, President James Garfield was assassinated by Charles Guiteau, a disgruntled and mentally unstable office-seeker. Guiteau voted for Garfield and wanted to be appointed as a consul to Vienna. Garfield's plans to reform the spoils system and resume funding for the Civil Service Commission were publicly known. The assassin shot the president from behind in a Washington, D.C. train station. James Garfield died of a lingering infection from his wounds two months later on September 19, 1881. Guiteau was found guilty of murder and was sentenced to death by hanging.

    Interesting Trivia:

    Did you know that President Garfield was only in office for six months, March 4, 1881 – September 19, 1881?

    Guiteau was hanged on June 30, 1882, only two days before the one-year anniversary of the shooting.

    Part of Guiteau's brain is on display in Philadelphia at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia's Mütter Museum.

    Civil Service, An engraving of the assassination of James A. Garfield (center right). Left of the President is Secretary of State Blaine and the assassin, Charles Guiteau is restrained on the left, StudySmarterAn engraving of the assassination of James A. Garfield (centre right). Left of the President are Secretary of State Blaine and the assassin, Charles Guiteau is restrained on the left, Wikimedia Commons

    Civil Service Examples

    Civil Service jobs make up a large part of the U.S. Bureaucracy. Organized under the Executive Branch, there are more than two million civilian employees. There are three major categories of employees:

    1. Senior Executive Service employees make up the senior leadership class of government agencies and are appointed or long-serving (career) workers.

    2. The excepted services are workers not subject to civil service rules and include C.I.A., State Department, and F.B.I. positions that have a more efficient, internal hiring process.

    3. The largest class is called the competitive service. These are civil service jobs that are open to all eligible applicants, selected on merit determined by tests and time in service.

    Pay is determined by an adjusted table of service grades known as the Government Schedule or the "GS" scale. Ranging from GS 1 to GS 15 pay grades as of March 2022 vary from $20,172 to $146,757 depending upon the time in grade.

    More than 19% of federal employees earn over $100,000 annually with the average federal worker's pay at $71,000 compared to $40,000 in the private sector (non-government employment).

    The U.S. military and Postal Service are separate from this category and have their own hiring promotion and pay scales. Even without their numbers, the U.S. government is the largest employer in the nation.

    The current process requires candidates to review job postings (vacancies) and determine if they meet the qualifications. Requirements can include time in GS grades, test completion, and educational achievements.

    Civil Service Behaviors

    Civil service tests are clearly posted and structured. As a result, the time it takes to post, schedule, administer, and hire new employees can be quite long. Obtaining a civil service job is often considered a good choice for job security and benefits.

    With a variety of jobs and locations to choose from, many people are drawn to the assurance of a predictable and stable career path. Most civil service jobs offer competitive pay, health benefits, sick leave, a defined-benefit retirement plan (pension), and paid time off.

    Civil Service - Key takeaways

    • Civil service refers to government service outside elected or appointed positions.
    • The practice of awarding government jobs to political supporters known as political patronage or the spoils system was addressed after the Civil War.
    • In 1881, President James Garfield was assassinated by Charles Guiteau, a disgruntled and mentally unstable office seeker upset with the new President's civil service reform goals.
    • In 1883, Congress passed the Pendleton Act which resumed Congressional funding for the Civil Service Commission and required civil service exams for government jobs.
    • Civil service jobs currently number over 2 million positions, with substantial pay and benefits.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Civil Service

    What is the meaning of civil service?

    Civil service refers to an organized process of obtaining government jobs and receiving merit-based promotions.

    What is an example of civil service?

    Obtaining a job as a clerical worker for the Department of Education or a scientist for the Department of Energy are examples of civil service jobs.

    What do you do as a civil service worker?

    Civil service workers perform duties in the daily operation of the agencies and departments of the federal government.

    What is the civil service test and who can take it?

    Civil service tests are open to the general public, providing they meet the posted qualifications.

    How much is a civil service pension worth?

    Civil service pensions are considered substantial as predictable income in retirement is less of acertainity in the marketplace.  Government-issued defined benefit plans are considered more lucrative than defined-contribution plans, such as 401ks which require greater or complete contributions by employees and are based on market conditions.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    A civil service test is typically required to get many ____jobs.

    The largest class is of federal jobs is called the competitive service.  These are Civil Service jobs that are open to all eligible applicants, selected on merit, and determined by tests and time in grade.

    Civil service refers to government service including elected or appointed positions. 

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