Merit System - History

Merit System - History

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Merit system - manner of choosing employees that emphasizes their ability, education, experience, and job performance; rather than their connections or other political factors. In 1883, Congress passed the Pendleton Act, which called for reforms to make sure more federal employees were hired by a merit system and fewer by Presidential appointment. Today, almost 95% of federal civilian employees are hired on a merit basis, through civil service examinations and educational and skill qualifications

. .

United States federal civil service

The United States federal civil service is the civilian workforce (i.e., non-elected and non-military public sector employees) of the United States federal government's departments and agencies. The federal civil service was established in 1871 (5 U.S.C. § 2101). [1] U.S. state and local government entities often have comparable civil service systems that are modeled on the national system, in varying degrees.

The U.S. civil service is managed by the Office of Personnel Management, which as of December 2011 [update] reported approximately 2.79 million civil servants employed by the federal government, [2] [3] [4] including employees in the departments and agencies run by any of the three branches of government (the executive branch, legislative branch, and judicial branch), including over 600,000 employees in the U.S. Postal Service.


Early definitions Edit

The "most common definition of meritocracy conceptualizes merit in terms of tested competency and ability, and most likely, as measured by IQ or standardized achievement tests." [3] In government and other administrative systems, "meritocracy" refers to a system under which advancement within the system turns on "merits", like performance, intelligence, credentials, and education. These are often determined through evaluations or examinations. [4] [ page needed ]

In a more general sense, meritocracy can refer to any form of evaluation based on achievement. Like "utilitarian" and "pragmatic", the word "meritocratic" has also developed a broader connotation, and is sometimes used to refer to any government run by "a ruling or influential class of educated or able people". [5]

This is in contrast to the original, condemnatory use of the term in 1958 by Michael Dunlop Young in his work "The Rise of the Meritocracy", who was satirizing the ostensibly merit-based Tripartite System of education practiced in the United Kingdom at the time he claimed that, in the Tripartite System, "merit is equated with intelligence-plus-effort, its possessors are identified at an early age and selected for appropriate intensive education, and there is an obsession with quantification, test-scoring, and qualifications." [6]

Meritocracy in its wider sense, may be any general act of judgment upon the basis of various demonstrated merits such acts frequently are described in sociology and psychology.

In rhetoric, the demonstration of one's merit regarding mastery of a particular subject is an essential task most directly related to the Aristotelian term Ethos. The equivalent Aristotelian conception of meritocracy is based upon aristocratic or oligarchic structures, rather than in the context of the modern state. [7] [8]

More recent definitions Edit

In the United States, the assassination of President James A. Garfield in 1881 prompted the replacement of the American Spoils System with a meritocracy. In 1883, The Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act was passed, stipulating government jobs should be awarded on the basis of merit through competitive exams, rather than ties to politicians or political affiliation. [9]

The most common form of meritocratic screening found today is the college degree. Higher education is an imperfect meritocratic screening system for various reasons, such as lack of uniform standards worldwide, [10] [11] lack of scope (not all occupations and processes are included), and lack of access (some talented people never have an opportunity to participate because of the expense, most especially in developing countries). [12] Nonetheless, academic degrees serve some amount of meritocratic screening purpose in the absence of a more refined methodology. Education alone, however, does not constitute a complete system, as meritocracy must automatically confer power and authority, which a degree does not accomplish independently. [ citation needed ]

Although the concept has existed for centuries, the term "meritocracy" is relatively new. It was used pejoratively by British politician and sociologist Michael Dunlop Young in his 1958 satirical essay. [13] [14] [15] [16] The Rise of the Meritocracy, which pictured the United Kingdom under the rule of a government favouring intelligence and aptitude (merit) above all else, being the combination of the root of Latin origin "merit" (from "mereō" meaning "earn") and the Ancient Greek suffix "-cracy" (meaning "power", "rule"). [17] [The purely Greek word is axiocracy (αξιοκρατία), from axios (αξιος, worthy) + "-cracy" (-κρατία, power).] In this book the term had distinctly negative connotations as Young questioned both the legitimacy of the selection process used to become a member of this elite and the outcomes of being ruled by such a narrowly defined group. The essay, written in the first person by a fictional historical narrator in 2034, interweaves history from the politics of pre- and post-war Britain with those of fictional future events in the short (1960 onward) and long term (2020 onward). [18]

The essay was based upon the tendency of the then-current governments, in their striving toward intelligence, to ignore shortcomings and upon the failure of education systems to utilize correctly the gifted and talented members within their societies. [19]

Young's fictional narrator explains that, on the one hand, the greatest contributor to society is not the "stolid mass" or majority, but the "creative minority" or members of the "restless elite". [20] On the other hand, he claims that there are casualties of progress whose influence is underestimated and that, from such stolid adherence to natural science and intelligence, arises arrogance and complacency. [20] This problem is encapsulated in the phrase "Every selection of one is a rejection of many". [20]

It was also used by Hannah Arendt in her essay "Crisis in Education", [21] which was written in 1958 and refers to the use of meritocracy in the English educational system. She too uses the term pejoratively. It was not until 1972 that Daniel Bell used the term positively. [22]

Ancient times: China Edit

Some of the earliest example of an administrative meritocracy, based on civil service examinations, dates back to Ancient China. [23] [24] [25] [26] [a] The concept originates, at least by the sixth century BC, when it was advocated by the Chinese philosopher Confucius, who "invented the notion that those who govern should do so because of merit, not of inherited status. This sets in motion the creation of the imperial examinations and bureaucracies open only to those who passed tests." [27]

As the Qin and Han dynasties developed a meritocratic system in order to maintain power over a large, sprawling empire, it became necessary for the government to maintain a complex network of officials. [28] Prospective officials could come from a rural background and government positions were not restricted to the nobility. Rank was determined by merit, through the civil service examinations, and education became the key for social mobility. [28] After the fall of the Han Dynasty, the nine-rank system was established during the Three Kingdoms period.

One of the oldest examples of a merit-based civil service system existed in the imperial bureaucracy of China. Tracing back to 200 B.C., the Han Dynasty adopted Confucianism as the basis of its political philosophy and structure, which included the revolutionary idea of replacing nobility of blood with one of virtue and honesty, and thereby calling for administrative appointments to be based solely on merit. This system allowed anyone who passed an examination to become a government officer, a position that would bring wealth and honor to the whole family. In part due to Chinese influence, the first European civil service did not originate in Europe, but rather in India by the British-run East India Company. company managers hired and promoted employees based on competitive examinations in order to prevent corruption and favoritism.

Ancient times: Ancient Greece Edit

Both Plato and Aristotle advocated meritocracy, Plato in his The Republic, arguing that the wisest should rule, and hence the rulers should be philosopher kings. [30]

17th century Edit

The concept of meritocracy spread from China to British India during the seventeenth century. [29]

The first European power to implement a successful meritocratic civil service was the British Empire, in their administration of India: "company managers hired and promoted employees based on competitive examinations in order to prevent corruption and favoritism." [29] British colonial administrators advocated the spread of the system to the rest of the Commonwealth, the most "persistent" of which was Thomas Taylor Meadows, Britain's consul in Guangzhou, China. Meadows successfully argued in his Desultory Notes on the Government and People of China, published in 1847, that "the long duration of the Chinese empire is solely and altogether owing to the good government which consists in the advancement of men of talent and merit only," and that the British must reform their civil service by making the institution meritocratic. [31] This practice later was adopted in the late nineteenth century by the British mainland, inspired by the "Chinese mandarin system". [32]

The British philosopher and polymath John Stuart Mill advocated meritocracy in his book, Considerations on Representative Government. His model was to give more votes to the more educated voter. His views are explained in Estlund (2003:57–58):

Mill's proposal of plural voting has two motives. One is to prevent one group or class of people from being able to control the political process even without having to give reasons in order to gain sufficient support. He calls this the problem of class legislation. Since the most numerous class is also at a lower level of education and social rank, this could be partly remedied by giving those at the higher ranks plural votes. A second, and equally prominent motive for plural voting is to avoid giving equal influence to each person without regard to their merit, intelligence, etc. He thinks that it is fundamentally important that political institutions embody, in their spirit, the recognition that some opinions are worth more than others. He does not say that this is a route to producing better political decisions, but it is hard to understand his argument, based on this second motive, in any other way.

So, if Aristotle is right that the deliberation is best if participants are numerous (and assuming for simplicity that the voters are the deliberators) then this is a reason for giving all or many citizens a vote, but this does not yet show that the wiser subset should not have, say, two or three in that way something would be given both to the value of the diverse perspectives, and to the value of the greater wisdom of the few. This combination of the Platonic and Aristotelian points is part of what I think is so formidable about Mill's proposal of plural voting. It is also an advantage of his view that he proposes to privilege not the wise, but the educated. Even if we agreed that the wise should rule, there is a serious problem about how to identify them. This becomes especially important if a successful political justification must be generally acceptable to the ruled. In that case, privileging the wise would require not only their being so wise as to be better rulers, but also, and more demandingly, that their wisdom be something that can be agreed to by all reasonable citizens. I turn to this conception of justification below.

Mill's position has great plausibility: good education promotes the ability of citizens to rule more wisely. So, how can we deny that the educated subset would rule more wisely than others? But then why shouldn't they have more votes?

Estlund goes on to criticize Mill's education-based meritocracy on various grounds.

18th century West Africa Edit

The Ashanti King Osei Kwadwo who ruled from c. 1764 to 1777, began the meritocratic system of appointing central officials according to their ability, rather than their birth. [33]

19th century Edit

In the United States, the federal bureaucracy used the Spoils System from 1828 until the assassination of United States President James A. Garfield by a disappointed office seeker in 1881 proved its dangers. Two years later in 1883, the system of appointments to the United States Federal Bureaucracy was revamped by the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, partially based on the British meritocratic civil service that had been established years earlier. The act stipulated that government jobs should be awarded on the basis of merit, through competitive exams, rather than ties to politicians or political affiliation. It also made it illegal to fire or demote government employees for political reasons. [9]

To enforce the merit system and the judicial system, the law also created the United States Civil Service Commission. [9] In the modern American meritocracy, the president may hand out only a certain number of jobs, which must be approved by the United States Senate.

Australia began establishing public universities in the 1850s with the goal of promoting meritocracy by providing advanced training and credentials. The educational system was set up to service urban males of middle-class background, but of diverse social and religious origins. It was increasingly extended to all graduates of the public school system, those of rural and regional background, and then to women and finally to ethnic minorities. [34] Both the middle classes and the working classes have promoted the ideal of meritocracy within a strong commitment to "mate-ship" and political equality. [35]

20th century to today Edit

Singapore describes meritocracy as one of its official guiding principles for domestic public policy formulation, placing emphasis on academic credentials as objective measures of merit. [36]

There is criticism that, under this system, Singaporean society is being increasingly stratified and that an elite class is being created from a narrow segment of the population. [37] Singapore has a growing level of tutoring for children, [38] and top tutors are often paid better than school teachers. [38] [39] [40] Defenders of this system recall the ancient Chinese proverb "Wealth does not pass beyond three generations" (Chinese: 富不过三代 ), suggesting that the nepotism or cronyism of elitists eventually will be, and often are, replaced by those lower down the hierarchy.

Singaporean academics are continuously re-examining the application of meritocracy as an ideological tool and how it's stretched to encompass the ruling party's objectives. Professor Kenneth Paul Tan at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy asserts that "Meritocracy, in trying to 'isolate' merit by treating people with fundamentally unequal backgrounds as superficially the same, can be a practice that ignores and even conceals the real advantages and disadvantages that are unevenly distributed to different segments of an inherently unequal society, a practice that in fact perpetuates this fundamental inequality. In this way, those who are picked by meritocracy as having merit may already have enjoyed unfair advantages from the very beginning, ignored according to the principle of nondiscrimination." [41]

How meritocracy in the Singaporean context relates to the application of pragmatism as an ideological device, which combines strict adherence to market principles without any aversion to social engineering and little propensity for classical social welfarism, [42] is further illustrated by Kenneth Paul Tan in subsequent articles:

There is a strong ideological quality in Singapore's pragmatism, and a strongly pragmatic quality in ideological negotiations within the dynamics of hegemony. In this complex relationship, the combination of ideological and pragmatic maneuvering over the decades has resulted in the historical dominance of government by the PAP in partnership with global capital whose interests have been advanced without much reservation. [43]

Within the Ecuadorian Ministry of Labor, the Ecuadorian Meritocracy Institute [44] was created under the technical advice of the Singaporean government.

With similar objections, John Rawls rejects the ideal of meritocracy as well. [45]

The Meritocracy Party Edit

In 2007 an anonymous British group called The Meritocracy Party published its first manifesto, to which they have now added more than two million words on the subject (discussing Hegel, Rousseau, Charles Fourier, Henri de Saint-Simon, and various other philosophers, scientists, reformers, and revolutionaries). In summary, The Meritocracy Party wants to achieve the following:

  1. A world in which every child gets an equal chance to succeed in life.
  2. The abolishment of party politics.
  3. Only those with a relevant education and work experience should be allowed to vote, rather than just anyone who has reached the age of 18 or 21.
  4. The introduction of 100% inheritance tax, so that the super-rich can no longer pass on their wealth to a select few (their privileged children). This would mean the end of the elite dynasties and hereditary monarchy.
  5. A radically reformed educational system, based on the MBTI personality types, and insights from radical innovators such as Rudolf Steiner and Maria Montessori.
  6. To replace free market capitalism with social capitalism and to replace democracy with a fully transparent meritocratic republic, under a meritocratic constitution.
  7. The end of nepotism, cronyism, discrimination, privilege and unequal chances.

On their website The Meritocracy Party lists five meritocratic principles [46] and thirteen primary aims. The Meritocracy International is the host of all meritocratic political parties in the world and the place where these may be found by country of origin. [ citation needed ]

The "meritocracy trap", a concept introduced by Daniel Markovits in his eponymous book, criticizes the aspirational view of meritocracy as being the cause of all problems associated with this matter: it is meritocracy itself that creates radical inequality and causes so many people in society, including those who are supposed to benefit from the situation, to be worse off. The accelerating inequality has been evolving under meritocracy’s own conditions. However, the author does not reject the whole idea of meritocracy he tries to look for different and more suitable approaches to the matter. While many critics support the idea that the inequality that has been increasing since the middle of twentieth century is actually a result of inadequate meritocracy, based on the analysis of its indicators Markovits finds that increasing inequality is actually a result of meritocracy itself.

The author points out the shift from the last five, six, seven decades, when the elite “leisure class” worked only rarely and spent days enjoying their fortune, while hard working people stayed poor for their whole lives. But lately, an important change occurred: according to a Harvard Business survey, members of the elite social circles are working more and harder than ever before. More than 60% of individuals with high income work circa 50 hours per week, around 30% of them work more than 60 hours per week and the last 10% spend over 80 hours per week occupied with their work responsibilities. Also, by having access to the best possible education available since starting school, members from the top 1% of households prevail in the world leading universities around the world. The interaction of these elements creates unusual and never-seen-before living situation for members of the elite circles: by hard work, higher amount of hours spent at work and performing with higher skills obtained from the best universities, they gain respect and position of the “superordinate” working class while losing their unflattering label of "leisure class". As the author implies in his calculations, the income of a typical elite household is now from three quarters made up of earnings from labor instead of ancestors' heritage.

Secondly, Markovits introduces the idea of "snowball inequality", which is basically an ongoing cycle of widening gap between elite workers and members of the middle class. While the high-profile individuals obtain exclusive positions thanks to higher level of their skills, they occupy jobs and oust middle class workers from the core of economic events. After that, the elites take advantage of their high earnings by securing the best education for their own offspring so that they obtain the highest qualification and are desired by the market for their great skills. Hence the gap between elite and middle class members is widening with every generation, inequality extensively triumphing over social mobility and forming a "time divide" – with long hours working high-profile individuals on one side, and substantially inactive middle class workers that are less and less required on the other side.

One side of the coin is in this case a clear loser: the middle class, which is unwillingly being excluded from economic prosperity, social benefit and the long desired ideal of American Dream. While it is impossible to measure the exact effects on the middle class, the side effects are more obvious: opioid epidemic, dramatic raise in "deaths of despair" [47] (suicides, mental health and alcoholism), and lowering level of life expectancy in these societies are just some of them. Quite surprisingly however, the high-profile member of society is being harmed by meritocracy as well: they have to pay a significant price for their hectic working life. Many of them admit suffering from physical and mental health issues, inability to sustain a good quality personal life and lack of time spent with their families. What is of even higher importance is that meritocracy causes a continuous "competitive trap" within the elite social circles as its members are from a very early age basically contestants of a meritocratic marathon that starts in their exclusive preschools, continues at colleges and universities and finally moves its second half to the work environment. They are truly trapped in this vicious race where they are compelled to constantly compete with others and, most importantly, with themselves. In this matter, the author encounters the basic weakness of the aspirational lifestyle, which promotes the idea of meritocracy as a means for fair evaluation of the most skilled, gifted and hard-working.

Markovits proposes a different approach to meritocracy, one where socioeconomic life conveniences are freely distributed to the people who are sufficiently successful at the things they are doing rather than creating an environment of ongoing competition. He promotes the idea that striving for being the best and brightest is a road to personal destruction and we should be more open to the idea of just being good enough. Restructuring of economic roles, organizations and institutions is desirable in order to include a wider population and hence narrow the increasing inequality gap by questioning the social hegemony of high-profile workers, and intervening with redistribution of earnings, working hours and social identity on behalf of middle class workers. [48] [49]

The term "meritocracy" was originally intended as a negative concept. [2] One of the primary concerns with meritocracy is the unclear definition of "merit". [50] What is considered as meritorious can differ with opinions as on which qualities are considered the most worthy, raising the question of which "merit" is the highest—or, in other words, which standard is the "best" standard. As the supposed effectiveness of a meritocracy is based on the supposed competence of its officials, this standard of merit cannot be arbitrary and has to also reflect the competencies required for their roles.

The reliability of the authority and system that assesses each individual's merit is another point of concern. As a meritocratic system relies on a standard of merit to measure and compare people against, the system by which this is done has to be reliable to ensure that their assessed merit accurately reflects their potential capabilities. Standardized testing, which reflects the meritocratic sorting process, has come under criticism for being rigid and unable to accurately assess many valuable qualities and potentials of students. Education theorist Bill Ayers, commenting on the limitations of standardized testing, writes that "Standardized tests can't measure initiative, creativity, imagination, conceptual thinking, curiosity, effort, irony, judgment, commitment, nuance, good will, ethical reflection, or a host of other valuable dispositions and attributes. What they can measure and count are isolated skills, specific facts and function, content knowledge, the least interesting and least significant aspects of learning." [51] Merit determined through the opinionated evaluations of teachers, while being able to assess the valuable qualities that cannot be assessed by standardized testing, are unreliable as the opinions, insights, biases, and standards of the teachers vary greatly. If the system of evaluation is corrupt, non-transparent, opinionated or misguided, decisions regarding who has the highest merit can be highly fallible.

The level of education required in order to become competitive in a meritocracy may also be costly, effectively limiting candidacy for a position of power to those with the means necessary to become educated. An example of this was Chinese student self-declared messiah, Hong Xiuquan, who despite ranking first in a preliminary, nationwide imperial examination, was unable to afford further education. As such, although he did try to study in private, Hong was ultimately noncompetitive in later examinations and unable to become a bureaucrat. This economic aspect of meritocracies has been said to continue nowadays in countries without free educations, with the Supreme Court of the United States, for example, consisting only of justices who attended Harvard or Yale and generally only considering clerkship candidates who attended a top-five university, while in the 1950s the two universities only accounted for around one fifth of the justices. [52] Even if free education were provided, the resources that the parents of a student are able to provide outside of the curriculum, such as tutoring, exam preparation, and financial support for living costs during higher education will influence the education the student attains and the student's social position in a meritocratic society. This limits the fairness and justness of any meritocratic system. Similarly, feminist critics have noted that many hierarchical organisations actually favour individuals who have received disproportionate support of an informal kind (e.g. mentorship, word-of-mouth opportunities, and so on), such that only those who benefit from such supports are likely to understand these organisations as meritocratic. [53]

Another concern regards the principle of incompetence, or the "Peter Principle". As people rise in a meritocratic society through the social hierarchy through their demonstrated merit, they eventually reach, and become stuck, at a level too difficult for them to perform effectively they are promoted to incompetence. This reduces the effectiveness of a meritocratic system, the supposed main practical benefit of which is the competence of those who run the society.

In his book Meritocratic Education and Social Worthlessness (Palgrave, 2012), the philosopher Khen Lampert argued that educational meritocracy is nothing but a post-modern version of Social Darwinism. Its proponents argue that the theory justifies social inequality as being meritocratic. This social theory holds that Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is a model, not only for the development of biological traits in a population, but also as an application for human social institutions—the existing social institutions being implicitly declared as normative. Social Darwinism shares its roots with early progressivism, and was most popular from the late nineteenth century to the end of World War II. Darwin only ventured to propound his theories in a biological sense, and it is other thinkers and theorists who have applied Darwin's model normatively to unequal endowments of human ambitions.

Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel in his latest book makes a case against meritocracy, calling it a "tyranny". Ongoing stalled social mobility and increasing inequality are laying bare the crass delusion of the American Dream, and the promise "you can make it if you want and try". The latter, according to Sandel, is the main culprit of the anger and frustration which brought some Western countries towards populism. [54] [55]

Cornell University economist Robert H. Frank rejects meritocracy in his Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy. [56] He describes how chance plays a significant role in deciding who gets what that is not objectively based on merit. He does not discount the importance of hard work, but, using psychological studies, mathematical formulae, and examples, demonstrates that among groups of people performing at a high level, chance (luck) plays an enormous role in an individual's success.

Meritocracy - History

According to scholarly consensus, the earliest example of an administrative meritocracy, based on civil service examinations, dates back to Ancient China.a The concept originates, at least by the sixth century BC, when it was advocated by the Chinese philosopher Confucius, who "invented the notion that those who govern should do so because of merit, not of inherited status. This sets in motion the creation of the imperial examinations and bureaucracies open only to those who passed tests."

As the Qin and Han dynasties developed a meritocratic system in order to maintain power over a large, sprawling empire, it became necessary for the government to maintain a complex network of officials. Prospective officials could come from a rural background and government positions were not restricted to the nobility. Rank was determined by merit, through the civil service examinations, and education became the key for social mobility. After the fall of the Han Dynasty, the nine-rank system was established during the Three Kingdoms period.

According to the Princeton Encyclopedia on American History:

One of the oldest examples of a merit-based civil service system existed in the imperial bureaucracy of China. Tracing back to 200 B.C., the Han Dynasty adopted Confucianism as the basis of its political philosophy and structure, which included the revolutionary idea of replacing nobility of blood with one of virtue and honesty, and thereby calling for administrative appointments to be based solely on merit. This system allowed anyone who passed an examination to become a government officer, a position that would bring wealth and honor to the whole family. In part due to Chinese influence, the first European civil service did not originate in Europe, but rather in India by the British-run East India Company. company managers hired and promoted employees based on competitive examinations in order to prevent corruption and favoritism.

The concept of meritocracy spread from China to British India during the seventeenth century, and then into continental Europe and the United States. With the translation of Confucian texts during the Enlightenment, the concept of a meritocracy reached intellectuals in the West, who saw it as an alternative to the traditional ancient regime of Europe. Voltaire and François Quesnay wrote favourably of the idea, with Voltaire claiming that the Chinese had "perfected moral science" and Quesnay advocating an economic and political system modeled after that of the Chinese.

The first European power to implement a successful meritocratic civil service was the British Empire, in their administration of India: "company managers hired and promoted employees based on competitive examinations in order to prevent corruption and favoritism." British colonial administrators advocated the spread of the system to the rest of the commonwealth, the most "persistent" of which was Thomas Taylor Meadows, Britain's consul in Guangzhou, China. Meadows successfully argued in his Desultory Notes on the Government and People of China, published in 1847, that "the long duration of the Chinese empire is solely and altogether owing to the good government which consists in the advancement of men of talent and merit only," and that the British must reform their civil service by making the institution meritocratic. "This practice later was adopted in the late nineteenth century by the British mainland, inspired by "Chinese mandarin system."

In the United States, the United States Civil Service used the Spoils System from 1828 until the assassination of United States President Garfield by a disappointed office seeker in 1881, proved its dangers. Two years later in 1883, the system of appointments to the United States Federal Bureaucracy was revamped by the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, partially based on the British meritocratic civil service that had been established years earlier. The act stipulated that government jobs should be awarded on the basis of merit, through competitive exams, rather than ties to politicians or political affiliation. It also made it illegal to fire or demote government employees for political reasons.

To enforce the merit system and the judicial system, the law also created the United States Civil Service Commission. In the modern American meritocracy, the president may hand out only a certain number of jobs, which must be approved by the Senate.

Read more about this topic: Meritocracy

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Napoleon and the Myth of a Merit System

It's been presented that under Napoleon the french Empire was a meritocracy, well have have contended with this proposition in various threads, well since than i have down a bit of research and so here it is.

My position is that the Empire under Napoleon class, patronage, nepotism were all at work and while you can say it was more of a meritocracy than other Nations at the time, the difference is more one of degree rather than some massive jump to a different system. The Rulers and leaders were often seeking to make their appointments on Merit and often introduced measures designed to get a more meritocratic system, normally with much less than total success.

Napoleon rewarded his friends , families and connections.

The Napoleonic system was primarily a centralised system where control and influence was very centralised and Napoleon was at the centre marking a vast number of appointments to almost all senior appointments, Napoleon's Marshals were also a significant centres of patronage.

Napoleon seemed much more concerned with constructing a stable political regime, and actively courted the wealthier classes, both the Ancient Regime nobility and the bourgeois rising class of notables (who were along with the army his strongest supporters). Napoleon appointed them to high office, and created express career entry and promotion both into the army and civil administration.

France Under Napoleon
By Louis Bergeron
- page 53

“thus we find Duroc, Bonaparte’s aide de camp in Italy and Egypt, soon made governor of the Tuileries Palace Berther his chief of staff promoted to Minister of War, and even Menou , despite failure and mediocrity , out at the head of various military administrations in Italy. Denon became director general of museums.”

"Laplace, who had been Bonaparte’s examiner at the time of his entrance into Military school in Paris in 1785, … become the first minister of the interior under the consulate. It was the wrong turn for someone who lost himself in details.
But Napoleon named him among the first senators, and from 1800 to 1814 he occupied successively in the senate the posts of secretary general, president, and after 1803 chancellor, appointed for six years and then renewed, lodged in Luxembourg Palace and receiving an annual salary of 72,000 francs, amongst the highest in the civilian hierarchy. He obtained favours also for his children, for his own was appointed to Napoleon’s personal staff a few days before the first abdication”

"Nevertheless about twenty of the new prefects are old acquaintances from school or garrison days, seven had been with the scientific expedition to Egypt and two had played a diplomatic role in Italy before Leoben and Campo Formio"

"Hyacinths Arrighi , a relative of Napoleon’s was prefect of Liamone and then Corsica from 1803 to 1814."

"Within the family circle the Beauharanais connection seems to have been particularly effective int the case of seven prefects”

Napoleon's Integration of Europe
By Stuart Woolf

page 63
“Appointments to the ministry or to posts abroad , among diplomats as with generals was strongly influenced by family patronage and recommendation”

page 75
"Socially, althourgh the bourgeois prefects always remained a majority (61% over the whole period) the proportion of nobles grew already undertake consulate and the early empire with the return of emigres and the substantial increase in the number of posts (23% in 1800., 31 % in 1804 39% in 1808 41% in 1813.)"

page 124
“more generally, citizens and officials sought for the means to sidestep the functionary directly in charge by appeal one or more steps above a mayor appealed to the prefect, ignoring the sub-prefect , a prefect to the head of state , ignoring the ministry of th interior. Everywhere local notables sought for means of access to Paris and especially to Napoleon.

“Patronage and contacts already payed so important a role in access to the bureaucracy that they continued to be considered as normal practice for the favourable resolution of issues at dispute”

Napoleon's Italy: Desmond Gregory
By Desmond Gregory

page 144
“What is clear, however is that Napoleon certainly looked upon Italy’s economy as a field tp be exploitedly ruthlessly for the benefit of france and the empire as a whole”

page 145
“By the trade treaty Napoleon imposed on the Italian republic in 1803, French imports were given favourable treatment,. even more so the treaty of 1808 “

“undesrtandably the Italains reacted badly to such blatant commercial exploitation”

“the ruin of much Italian manufacture (the element that relied external rather internal market) accounts for that fact in 1814 the commercial and industrial classes who were most incensed against Napoleon’s regime”

Napoleon: A Biographical Companion
By David Nicholls
page 80 (dipolomatic service)
“appointments were strong influenced by family patronage and recommendation”

page 144 (Lebrun)
“but his exercise of patronage under Napoleon . especially in the appointment of prefects . had brought him considerable wealth and influence”

Cages of Reason: The Rise of the Rational State in France, Japan, the United .
By Bernard S. Silberman
page 110
“The concern about recruitment to the auditor became evident as their number expanded and it became apparent that the position was seen as the entrance to the most senior careers. Napoleon began by using social status as one of the primary criteria for the appointment of young men to the office”

page 112
“by his tendency to nominate young men from aristocratic families to auditeur posts”

page 116
“However , he had created and specified the place where individuals could arrive if they had the right to education and the economic and stsocial status necessary to acquire that education”

Napoleon and the Transformation of Europe
By Alexander Grab

page 19
“Napoleon initiated changes in his subjects in order to be able to draft soldiers more efficiently and augment public revenues

page 28
“Napoleon was determined to secure French economic domination over Europe. which benefited French industrialists and merchants in particular, To achieve this gaol, the Emperor forced his satellite states to grant nonreciprocal advantages to french Industry and commence”

page 29
“Those land grants consisted of royal domamnins of toppled rulers or church lands seized by Napoleon. By 1814 , the Emperor made 4994 such awards totalling 30 million francs…….
..Thee largest recipients included Napoloen’s sister pauline and Elisa, and his favourite Marshals…. These donations were except from taxation , thereby shrinking the tax base of the satellite states. In the duchy of warsaw the loss amounted to 20% of the staes revenues”

page 42 (talking about notables large land owners in france)
“napoleon nominated then to administrative and judicial positions, assured their property rights throughteh code napoleon , restored law and order and huarenteed their sons education in the lycées.”

The French Army, 1750-1820: Careers, Talent, Merit
By Rafe Blaufarb
page 170
"Napoleon’s preference for officers from a more elevated background reflected his assume,option that feeling out recruits in the lower echelons of society could only yield merger returns."

"In the Napoleonic conception , education was not supposed to foster social mobility , but rather offered a political acceptable way of making class based social selections."

"In part, the regimes desire to improve the social composition of the officer corps was intended to reinforce the hierarchical subordination. Although the had made their reputations commanding troops of the republic Napoleon and his inspectors regretted the passing of the precise graduations of the the royal army where a clear cut “line of demarcation” separated the officers form the lower ranks. The Revolution , in their view had eroded this line. In their postwar reviews the inspectors found that , although the soldiers generally obeyed their officers, subordination was too loose and relations between the ranks too democratic. Baraguey d’Hillier described discipline in the 83rd demi-brigade as “very lax, very unhierarchic” and expressed shock at the “great familiarity” which existed between officers and men.

page 171
"To sharpen distinctions between the ranks in an army still imbued with the principle of civil equality it was necessary that officers posses a superior education the “sole legitimate basis of inequality” Marhsal Marmount , Napoloen’s former military school classmate went even further. To strengthen “the structure of obedience” he wrote the officers authority should be bolstered by instruction , illustrious birth and elevated social position."

page 172
"To make military careers attractive to young men of good family , Napoleon did more than just purge the officer corps of socially undersibale officers. He also reinstututed the practice abolished by the convention of granting direct officer comnsions. He believed that as long as republican egalartarism continued to dictate officer recruitment policy - requiring those who aspired to commissions to begin their service as simple soldiers - the right king od people would shun the military profession. Only prospect of immediate officer rank - offering distinction form the common solidery . the promise of more rapid advancement and social status - would induce elite families to send their sons into the military profession. "

page 174
"in the regular units, commanders quietly reinstated the old regime practice of recruiting young men from well -connected military families as volunteers with the assurance that they would vibe proposed for the first available second lieutenancies "

The Art of Warfare in the Age of Napoleon
By Gunther E. Rothenberg

page 132
"Beginning in 1809 , when casualties became substantial about one fourth to one fifth of all Napoleonic officers came form this source, although few rankers promoted on the battlefield rose beyond the grade of captain."

Napoleon's Infantry Handbook
By Terry Crowdy

page 135
"There was another route for promotion open to officers, particularly those who were highly educated , or came from a family of influence. This was to secure an attachment to the staff on a general as an adjunct or ordinance officer, running messages , carrying out office duties, and generally being useful. Very often these positions were secured, directly or not, through nepotistic means"

"From that point onwards, the officer would enjoy better conditions, would move in higher cycles and , if he proved himself useful (and lucky) , his general would ensure he was mentioned in dispatches and secure what promotion he could."

page 120 Council of administration

"The law of 19 Ventose II ( 9 march 1794) set the council at twenty three members. The brigade commander was chairman the most senior battalion commands also attended, along with six officers, six officers and mine soldiers representing the interests of other ranks. The membership was drastically pared down by the law of 25 functidor V (10 September 1797) which set the composition of the council as the brigade commander, four officers, a sub officer, and a corporal or volunteer. Napoleon streamlined the council further on 21 December 1808 so it comprised of the colonel (chairman) .,the two most senior battalion commanders . most senior captain and one sub-offer."

Taking Liberties: Problems of a New Order From the French Revolution to Napoleon
By Howard G. Brown, Judith A. Miller

"What we find in the case of the french army after Brumaire is that, without ever breaking openly the ideal of a career open to talents, Napoleon sought to raise the social level of the officer corps by recruiting long men from good families."

"Although no group was formally barred form admission , the school’s politics function and substantial tuition payments demanded ensured that all but the prominent and wealthy would be effectively excluded."

"As mentioned above, letters of application and recommendation - devoting more attention to the service records of fathers and uncles than the qualifications of appilcates - testify to the revival of an ethos of hereditary service among Napoleonic elites."

page 141
"As is well-known , Napoleon attached great importance to rallying Old regime nobles to his regime. One of the ways to do this was by naming their sons directly to the officer corps. He awarded commissions to young men from illustrious french families."

page 142
"in 1809 the military school, velites , gendarmerie d’ordonnance , and all the other rinstutions of direct officer recruitment together accounted for only forty-three per cent of newly commissioned officers."

page 144
"Napoleon’s de facto division of the officer corps into two classes - those directly commissioned , who would occupy the superior ranks and those , promoted form the common soldiery , who could dat best hope to wind down their long careers as captains."

History of the Merit System

The year was 1933: an election year for the Los Angeles Unified School District. Four candidates, who were known during and after their campaign as the “Four Horsemen”, were running for seats on the Board of Education. Rumor had it that these four candidates had promised jobs to many people in exchange for their political support. In an open letter to employees of the District, these candidates made the following promise:

“We wish to assure you that if we are elected to membership on the Board of Education, we intend to give you fair and just treatment. We expect to make only such changes as we find necessary in order to secure honest and efficient service. We do not believe in the ‘spoils system’. We are opposed to all forms of political coercion in the schools we have not promised jobs or promotions to anyone.”

The following are two accounts of events following the election of the Four Horsemen.

“Immediately upon their installation in office, there were wholesale dismissals among non-certificated employees, chiefly among the custodians … Estimates on the number dismissed vary from five hundred to eighteen hundred.”

“When these Board members took office, they began to make good on their campaign promises. We had some 700 people fired out of the Business Division in 1933. The halls were filled and the sidewalks were filled. They had to have traffic policemen to control all the people who were there demanding jobs that had been promised to them. For days, strangers wandered through the offices … I came a year after that and the employees by that time had decided that they needed and would work toward obtaining a merit system.”

On September 15, 1935, Assembly Bill 999 became effective. This bill was the enabling legislation for the establishment of the “civil service commission”.

Today, the authority of the Personnel Commission emanates from Chapter 5, Article 5, Sections 45220-45320 inclusive of the California State Education Code for K-12 school districts, and Chapter 4, Article 2 and 3, sections 88050-88139 inclusive for Community College Districts. The Personnel Commission is charged with developing and maintaining a Merit System for classified employees of the District and fostering the advancement of a career service for these employees. The Merit System is a personnel system that provides for the selection, retention, and promotion of classified employees on the basis of individual merit and fitness demonstrated by competitive examinations and performance.

The Personnel Commission is composed of three commissioners. Their term of office is three years with one seat being appointed each year. Members of the Personnel Commission are appointed by the State Chancellor based on the recommendation of the Board of Trustees. Prior to making its recommendation, the Board is required to seek the advice and counsel of all constituencies within the District.

About this time, you may be thinking, “Nice story but that was 70 years ago. It couldn’t happen today.” There are also those who will argue that the merit system concept is “old fashioned” in light of public sector labor unions. However, with the advent of collective bargaining in public education, the functions performed by Personnel Commissions take on added significance. The necessity for objective information and decisions related to job classification and salary remain unaltered. The advocacy and protection of rights for non-represented employees remains a necessity. An independent body which can hear employee disciplinary appeals and conduct investigations in an impartial manner is vital. Employees and the public alike deserve to know that public employment is being managed efficiently and economically and in accordance with generally accepted principles of merit.

Spoils system

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Spoils system, also called patronage system, practice in which the political party winning an election rewards its campaign workers and other active supporters by appointment to government posts and with other favours. The spoils system involves political activity by public employees in support of their party and the employees’ removal from office if their party loses the election. A change in party control of government necessarily brings new officials to high positions carrying political responsibility, but the spoils system extends personnel turnover down to routine or subordinate governmental positions.

The term was in use in American politics as early as 1812, but it was made famous in a speech made in 1832 by Senator William Marcy of New York. In defending one of President Andrew Jackson’s appointments, Marcy said, “To the victor belong the spoils of the enemy.” In Marcy’s time, the term spoils referred to the political appointments, such as cabinet offices or ambassadorships, controlled by an elected official.

Arguments in favour of the spoils system defend it as a means of maintaining an active party organization by offering loyal workers occupational rewards. It also guarantees the ruling party loyal and cooperative employees. Supporters of the practice claim this results in more effective government because the appointed officeholders have a stake in helping the elected official to carry out his policies and fulfill his campaign promises.

On the other hand, the spoils system too often resulted in appointments that were based strictly on the needs of the party, without regard for the appointee’s qualifications or ability to do the job. Extensive changes in positions that did not affect government policy, such as President Benjamin Harrison’s changing 31,000 postmasters in one year, also led to inefficiency.

The spoils system flourished unchallenged in the United States from the 1820s until after the Civil War, at which time the system’s abuses prompted civil-service reforms designed to cut down the number of government posts filled by appointment and to award jobs on the basis of merit. The Pendleton Federal Civil Service Act of 1883 provided the initial basis for the adoption of the merit system in the recruitment of federal officials, and by the late 20th century merit systems had almost completely replaced the spoils system at the federal, state, and city levels of government.

In addition to designating the awarding of public offices to party supporters, the term has come to refer to other abuses of political power designed to benefit and enrich the ruling party. These practices may involve, for example, siphoning public funds to the party by contracting with party contributors to handle public projects at inflated rates or by granting public franchises to party contributors at very low prices. The term also includes favouring supporters in areas like the prosecution of law cases, the placement of insurance policies, or the levying of taxes.

Although spoils system is an American political term, the practice of distributing public offices to reward supporters and strengthen a government is and has been common in many other countries as well.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Amy Tikkanen, Corrections Manager.

Mobile County Personnel Board History

The Mobile County Personnel Board was created by the State Legislature in 1939 through the Civil Service Act to "govern and control, by Civil Service rules, regulations and practices. all individuals in the Classified Service". In this responsibility, the Personnel Board along with the Mobile County Personnel Department:

  • accepts job applications
  • tests and screens of job applicants
  • establishes and maintains employment registers
  • trains employees
  • clarifies personnel policy issues
  • administers a classification/compensation system
  • handles employee grievances and appeals
  • verifies and certifies jurisdiction payrolls

Using current Human Resource Management policies and practices, the Personnel Department provides our agencies with qualified employees. In turn, we serve the citizens of Mobile County by ensuring that the filling of local government jobs is based upon merit and ability and eliminates political factors, nepotism, or favoritism.

The Mobile County Merit System represents individuals employed through 22 local governmental agencies which include cities, towns, governmental boards, commissions, and other agencies. The operation and administration of these jurisdictions require over 5,000 classified employees working in over 900 classifications. The employees of the Merit System provide valuable services to the communities and agencies they serve through such jobs as public safety positons, librarians, office assistants, social workers, nurses, mechanics, treatment plant operators, accountants, equipment operators, public service workers, and many more.

You may visit our office at 1809 Government Street, Mobile AL 36606 and use one of our kiosks with computers and scanning capabilities to fill out an online application. Our office hours are 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m., Monday - Friday, except for major holidays. For additional locations to fill out applications and general information, email us at [email protected] or call us at (251) 470-7727.

©1999-2021 Mobile County Personnel Board, All Rights Reserved Dogwood Productions Logo

Pay for Performance: Evaluating Performance Appraisal and Merit Pay (1991)

For nearly 50 years, the federal government has operated with some performance appraisal procedures whose purposes have been to strengthen the link between pay and performance. Since 1978, specific pay for performance programs have been in place for mid- and upper-level federal managers. There is general agreement that these programs have not attained the desired objectives their troubled history has included a series of adjustments and changes, differing levels of financial support, and little evidence of success. The ability to demonstrate a link between performance and pay&mdashto both the employee and the public&mdashremains problematic for the federal government.

As we approach the year 2000, the questions surrounding pay for performance in the public sector have assumed a new importance&mdashindeed, a central position&mdashin new proposals for federal civil service reform. Many of the questions raised in the debate about the 1978 reforms are being raised again. Why is this so? What accounts for the intransigence of problems surrounding effective pay for performance systems in the federal government? Is there evidence to support the validity of the effort, despite its problems?

In the federal government, the answers to these questions are made more difficult by the nature of the federal personnel system, by the intermingling of issues of political responsiveness with issues of effective management, and by the need to marshal very scarce resources for a policy activity that never ranks very high on the national agenda. It is our intent in this chapter to provide the historical and contextual information necessary to understand these constraints and their implications for performance-based pay schemes in the federal government.


The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 and its outcomes can be best understood within the context of the historic and institutional influences that led to its creation. Two aspects of this context are discussed here: (1) the historical evolution of merit principles in the federal sector and (2) the evolution of federal management strategy.

Evolution of the Federal Merit System

The passage of the Pendleton Act in 1883 marked the origin of the merit system and the classified civil service in the federal government. This landmark legislation was intended to create a system that not only protected federal employment and employees from the excesses of partisan politics, but also provided the federal government with a competent and politically neutral work force. The Pendleton Act contained three fundamental merit principles: fair and open competition for federal jobs, admission to the competitive service only on the basis of neutral examination, and protection of those in the service from political influence and coercion (Ingraham and Rosenbloom, 1990). At the time the Pendleton Act was passed, the spoils system had thoroughly politicized the federal service. The electoral success of candidates supported by civil service leagues in the 1882 congressional elections put civil service reform on the national agenda. Public attention to the problem was galvanized by the assassination of President Garfield by a demented campaign worker who sought federal office.

Despite the clarity of the problem and fairly widespread consensus on the need for action, the reality of the Pendleton Act was modest: only 10 percent of the federal work force at that time was covered by the initial legislation. Congress granted the President authority to add federal employees to the merit system as he saw fit. Van Riper (1958) notes that the act permitted "&hellip an orderly retreat of parties from their prerogatives of plunder. &hellip"

The Pendleton Act created decentralized Boards of Examiners to administer entrance examinations. Unlike the British system, which had served as the ideal for many reformers, the U.S. system did not rely on elite formal academic training. Rather, it emphasized common sense, practical information, and general skills. Neutrality was a primary value in the merit system. One observer wrote that "&hellip the civil service was like a hammer or a saw it would do nothing at all by itself, but it would serve any purpose, wise or unwise, good or bad, to which any user put it" (Kaufman, 1954).

The fledgling merit system, intended to remove politics from the federal service, developed and grew as politics allowed. Its history is not, therefore, one of coherent development it reflects shifting and changing political priorities and cycles. Both Congress and the President retained a keen interest in patronage

issues long after passage of the Pendleton Act. President McKinley, for example, included 1,700 new positions in the classified service, but exempted 9,000 that had previously been covered (Skrowonek, 1982). Congress excluded entire agencies from the classified service. In the New Deal years, Franklin D. Roosevelt successfully urged that the new agencies created be staffed by persons with policy expertise congruent with the President's interests, rather than the ''neutral competents" produced by the civil service examination system. When Roosevelt assumed the presidency in 1932, about 80 percent of federal employees were in the competitive civil service. By 1936, that proportion was about 60 percent (U.S. Civil Service Commission, 1974).

Of equal significance, new provisions and procedures were layered on incrementally as the system grew. Until the time of the New Deal, most of the new provisions, with their emphasis on economy, efficiency, and standardization, reflected the scientific management principles in vogue in the business and public administration communities. One such effort was the creation, in 1912, of the skeleton of a performance appraisal system. In that year, the Civil Service Commission (CSC) was directed by Congress to establish a uniform efficiency rating system for all federal agencies. The commission established a Division of Efficiency to carry out this task (U.S. Civil Service Commission, 1974).

The passage of the Classification Act in 1923 represented a more ambitious attempt to bring scientific management principles to the federal merit system. In words that have a familiar ring, the Joint Commission on Reclassification of Salaries had concluded in 1920 that the United States government, the largest employer in the world, needed a "modern classification of positions to serve as a basis for just standardization of compensation" (quoted in Gerber, 1988). The Classification Act established in law the principle of nationally uniform compensation levels, providing for the standard classification of duties and responsibilities by occupations and positions with salary levels assigned to the resulting positions.

In addition, the Classification Act legalized the principle of rank in position. Unlike the more common European practice of rank in person, the U.S. system provided that wages and/or salary for each position were to be determined solely by the position description and the qualifications for it, not by the personal qualifications of the person who would occupy the position. Finally, the Classification Act of 1923 led to the creation of a standard rating scale, which required supervisors to rate employees for each "service rendered." This was the first government-wide effort to describe job requirements and employee performance.

The Classification Act came under almost immediate attack. Evaluations in 1929 and 1935 found major problems with the classification system that it established. Primary criticisms focused on the extremely narrow and complex nature of the classification process. The 1935 inquiry noted, for example, that "what seem to be the most trifling differences in function or difficulty are

formally recognized and duly defined &hellip" (Wilmerding, 1935). Nonetheless, the Classification Act was not reformed until 1949, following the release of the first Hoover Commission report. That report had been blunt about the state of the federal merit system:

Probably no problem in the management of the Government is more important than that of obtaining a capable and conscientious body of public servants. Unfortunately, personnel practices in the federal government give little room for optimism that these needs are being met.

Although not universally considered an improvement (see Gerber, 1988), the Classification Act of 1949 simplified the classification system by reducing the number of pay categories from five to two: the 18-grade General Schedule for white-collar employees and another schedule for blue-collar employees. It created the "supergrade" system (GS 16&ndash18), which was in many ways the predecessor of the Senior Executive Service (a version of which had been recommended by the first Hoover Commission). The 1949 act also marked an early point on what has come to be a centralization-decentralization cycle in federal personnel policy, when it delegated some classification authority back to the agencies (Ingraham and Rosenbloom, 1990). Classification of managerial jobs in the federal merit system has not been reformed since the passage of the 1949 act.

There have been other initiatives related to performance appraisal, however, that are worth noting in this brief overview. The Ramspeck Act created efficiency rating boards of review in 1940. The uniform efficiency rating system that resulted was in place until 1950, when it was replaced by the provisions of the Performance Rating Act of 1950. The Performance Rating Act required agencies to establish a performance appraisal system with the prior approval of the CSC. This system established three summary rating levels: "Outstanding," "Satisfactory," and ''Unsatisfactory." Employees were permitted to appeal ratings to a statutory board of three members consisting of representatives from the agency, one selected by employees, and a chairperson from the CSC. The act required a 90-day written warning of an unsatisfactory rating and opportunity for employees to improve.

Financial incentives to accompany performance were introduced by the Incentive Awards Act of 1954, which authorized recognition and cash payments for superior accomplishment, suggestions, inventions, or other personal efforts. The intent of the Incentive Awards Act was reinforced by passage of the Salary Reform Act of 1962. This act established an "acceptable level of competence" determination for granting General Schedule within-grade increases. Within-grade increases could be withheld when performance dropped below an acceptable level, but the agency was obliged to prove that performance was not acceptable. Employees were permitted to appeal to both the agency and, if denied at the agency level, to the Civil Service Commission. The Salary Reform

Act also authorized an additional step increase or quality step increase (QSI) for "high-quality performance." This system guided performance management in the federal government until the passage of Civil Service Reform Act in 1978.

These incremental changes and 100 years' accretion of laws and procedures have resulted in an enormously complex federal merit system. Entrance to the system can now be through "competitive," "noncompetitive," or "excepted" authority. Veterans have preference in hiring and, until 1953, did not have to pass an examination to be considered for employment. There are direct hiring authorities for hard-to-hire and specialized occupations, for outstanding scholars, for returned Peace Corps Volunteers, for Vietnam-era veterans, and many others. Examinations are not required in these cases. There is extensive use of temporary and part-time hiring there are 35 different ways to hire temporary employees alone (for additional discussion, see Ingraham and Rosenbloom, 1990).

At the time the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 was passed, over 6,000 pages of civil service law, procedure, and regulation governed the federal merit system. There were at least 30 different pay systems in place there were over 900 occupations in the federal civil service. This complexity was one of the problems addressed by civil service reform the history and development of the complexity profoundly influenced the reform's potential for success. It is significant that the 1978 act did not for the most part address basic entrance procedures, the classification system, or the basic federal compensation systems. In many respects, it reformed at the fringes of the system.

Federal Management Strategies and Civil Service Reform

Federal management strategies provide another set of influences that were important to the context and development of civil service reform. At least since 1937, when the Brownlow Commission issued its report on the Executive Office of the President, appropriate theories and structures for federal management have been debated by academic analysts and elected officials. The remarkable growth of government in Franklin Roosevelt's first term created a management problem unknown to previous presidents. The steady expansion of the civil service system in the years prior to the New Deal had created a large permanent bureaucracy founded on the neutral competence model. President Roosevelt wished, however, to have bureaucracies and bureaucrats more responsive to his policy agenda.

The Brownlow recommendations, while continuing to argue for neutral competence, firmly articulated the concept of the President as manager of the executive branch. The Federal Reorganization Act of 1939 was the cornerstone for the development of that presidential capacity. An emphasis on structural change, such as that found in President Carter's Reorganization Plan No. 2, has

been a consistent emphasis of most presidential management initiatives since that time.

The evolution of those management efforts has been characterized by a shift from the basic question "How should government be managed?" to a new query: "Who should manage government?" The answer from the White House has been consistent and predictable: the President (and therefore not the Congress) is responsible for the coordination and direction of the executive branch. This view has grown more explicit in the past 25 years. Particularly since the Nixon presidency, it has been an aggressively pursued ideal.

There have been three basic components to the presidential control strategies that have emerged: structural change, governmental reorganization, and larger numbers of political appointees to direct the career bureaucracy (see Ingraham, 1987 Pfiffner, 1988). President Nixon essentially created the model for future presidents by combining all of these strategies into an overall vision of presidential management. The "administrative presidency" that he attempted to create was cut short by Watergate the lessons from it, however, were quickly adopted by the presidents who followed. (For a complete discussion of the Nixon strategy, see Nathan, 1983.)

President Carter, for example, agreed with the intent of the administrative presidency&mdashbetter management and coordination and greater accountability of the career bureaucracy to elected officials. Carter, in fact, used the Schedule C political appointment authority more heavily than had any president since its creation in 1956 (Ingraham, 1987). The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 was one part of this larger strategy. Carter's primary interest was in improving the managerial and technical competence of the presidential office Alan Campbell, Carter's director of the Office of Personnel Management, observed in a 10-year retrospective on the design of the Civil Service Reform Act that its structural changes were intended to work "&hellip no matter who was in office" (Campbell, 1988). In retrospect, however, many observers feel that the emergence of the administrative presidency has politicized the bureaucracy and placed the ideal of a politically neutral and protected civil service under stress. This in turn has implications for compensation policy and the efficacy of performance appraisal.


Civil service reform was central to President Carter's election campaign and he selected an adviser to spearhead the effort shortly after his announcement to seek the office. One of Carter's first acts as President was to create the President's Personnel Management Project (PMP) to assist him and his staff in the design of the promised reform.

The structure of the PMP was purposefully comprehensive: there were nine task forces, an assistant secretary's advisory group, several other more informal advisory groups, and a number of public hearings. From these activities, the

PMP produced a two-volume report of problem analysis and recommendations. The report contained well over 100 specific recommendations for reform it was released in December 1977. From that report, members of the Inter-Agency Advisory Group drafted the legislation (for a complete discussion of the design, see Ingraham, 1989).

President Carter first introduced the broad outlines of the Civil Service Reform Act in his State of the Union message on January 19, 1978. At that time, he called the reforms "absolutely vital." It was the first time that a U.S. president had included civil service reform among his major legislative proposals. President Carter's ultimate objective, he said, was to create "&hellip a government that is efficient, open and truly worthy &hellip of understanding and respect."

Carter's reforms came in two parts. Reorganization Plan No. 2 preceded the actual reform legislation: it abolished the Civil Service Commission and replaced it with the Office of Personnel Management, the Merit Systems Protection Board (including the Office of Special Counsel), and the Federal Labor Relations Authority. The Office of Personnel Management would oversee the human resource management activities of the federal government. Those responsibilities would include implementation of the other reforms. The Merit Systems Protection Board would serve as guardian of the merit system and merit principles and as an appeals body for personnel actions brought by federal employees. During congressional consideration of Reorganization Plan No. 2, Carter administration officials argued that the board and the special counsel would protect the merit system from any abuse resulting from reform provisions regarding pay for performance, discipline, or the senior civil service (Vaughn, 1989).

The Civil Service Reform Act itself contained a number of provisions intended to improve the performance of the federal civil service. Major provisions included the creation of the Senior Executive Service, a rank-in-person system for top executives, performance appraisals for all employees, merit pay for middle managers, delegations of specified personnel management authorities to the line agencies, formalization of the federal labor management relations program, and modifications in procedures for dealing with poor performers.

The Senior Executive Service

The Senior Executive Service (SES) was conceived by the designers of the reform as the centerpiece of the Civil Service Reform Act. The Senior Executive Service was a multipurpose reform. Its members were to be the federal government's managerial elite. They were to participate in policy making activities as well as the management activities reserved for the traditional career civil service. The structure of the SES, and the removal of some civil service protections from its members, also ensured that the link between

political executives and senior career managers would be strengthened. The inclusion of some political appointees in the Senior Executive Service itself further emphasized the objective of political responsiveness of the reform. This emphasis on responsiveness to political direction can be read, in the context of pay for performance, as an effort to more closely link individual managerial activity to organizational objectives.

Performance appraisal and pay for performance were important parts of the concept of a Senior Executive Service. The act required the establishment of a performance appraisal system designed to permit the accurate evaluation of performance in any SES position. Performance criteria were to be position-specific and were to identify critical elements of the position. Performance appraisals were intended to encourage excellence in performance by senior executives. They were to provide a basis for performance awards and for promotions and other executive development opportunities, as well as for retention decisions.

SES performance appraisals were to be based on both individual and agency performance, and were to include such factors as improvements in efficiency, productivity, quality of service, cost efficiency, timeliness of performance, and the achievement of equal employment opportunity requirements. SES performance appraisals were required on an annual basis, with performance described according to one of several standard summary ratings. Final appraisals could be made only upon review by an agency-level Performance Review Board, which was required by the act.

The SES pay system included strong pay for performance elements. It did not provide for any type of annual pay increases, except the general "comparability" increases. Instead, incentives were offered in the form of awards and bonuses. Thus, the only way for an SES employee to move up in pay is to receive a change in rank to a higher level. The act created two levels of SES awards: Meritorious Executive and Distinguished Executive. Subject to the congressionally mandated limitations, the President would designate career appointees to either of these two ranks. A designation as a Meritorious Executive carried with it a cash award of $10,000 receipt of a Distinguished Executive award provided the recipient with a lump sum award of $20,000. A minimum of a fully successful rating (equivalent to a satisfactory rating) was required for nomination to one of the ranks.

To provide incentives for excellent performance, Congress also created a bonus system for SES incumbents. Fully satisfactory performance was established as a baseline for eligibility for bonuses. The number of bonuses awarded within any agency was limited to less than 50 percent of the SES positions allocated to the agency. The act further stipulated that individual awards could not exceed 20 percent of the career appointee's rate of basic pay.

Performance Appraisal

The general logic of the SES performance appraisal provisions was applied to non-SES employees as well. But while the primary emphasis of the SES system appeared to be on linking individual performance to organizational objectives, the program for mid-level managers (GS 13&ndash15 supervisors and management officials) emphasized the link between individual performance and pay. Under the performance appraisal provisions of the Civil Service Reform Act, each agency was required to develop performance appraisal systems that "(1) provide for periodic appraisals of job performance of employees (2) encourage employee participation in establishing performance standards and (3) use the results of performance appraisals as a basis for training, rewarding, reassigning, promoting, reducing in grade, retaining and removing employees." These systems were required to meet criteria prescribed in OPM regulations and were required to be implemented by October 1, 1981, three years after the act was passed. The designers of the act believed that this time lag would permit the SES reforms to become institutionalized before other pay for performance reforms were implemented.

The OPM regulations were intended to develop job-related and objective performance appraisal systems consistent with the dictates of the statute. The regulations required that performance standards and critical elements be consistent with the duties and responsibilities covered in an employee's position description. OPM guidance suggested that performance standards be based on a job analysis to identify critical elements of a position, and that each agency develop a method for evaluating its system to ensure its validity.

This identification of critical elements of a job was a key component of the performance appraisal reforms. A critical element was defined by OPM as "any requirement of the job which is sufficiently important that inadequate performance of it outweighs acceptable or better performance in other aspects of the job." Employees who failed to perform at a satisfactory level on a critical element were to be subject to performance-based actions, including dismissal if performance did not improve.

Merit Pay

The Civil Service Reform Act also created a new pay for performance system for middle managers, GS 13&ndash15. The merit pay provisions represented a break from the long tradition of essentially automatic salary increases based on length of service. Borrowing from private-sector practices, Title V of the Civil Service Reform Act contained provisions intended to motivate mid-level managers to perform at higher levels by tying performance to financial incentives.

The Merit Pay System (MPS), which became mandatory on October 1,

1981, altered the pattern of annual incremental adjustments to salary. Under MPS, employees received only half of the comparability adjustment automatically. The nonautomatic portion of the comparability adjustment, plus the within-grade and quality step increase monies were pooled and distributed according to performance ratings (U.S. Office of Personnel Management, 1981). A crucial point is that the legislation provided that the Merit Pay System would be revenue neutral, so that if some employees benefited, others would of necessity be less well off than they would have been under the General Schedule.

Federal Employee Expectations About the Reform

It is difficult to identify the attitudes of federal employees toward performance appraisal, pay for performance, and other reform provisions prior to the Civil Service Reform Act because of the lack of baseline data. One survey, conducted by Lynn and Vaden, questioned a random sample of about 2,000 federal employees about their attitudes toward the reform in general. Lynn and Vaden (1979) reported fairly high levels of skepticism and distrust about the reforms, including frequent references to them as a "return to the spoils system."

The most comprehensive source of data about employee attitudes prior to reform is the Federal Employee Attitude Survey, Phase I (FEAS I), conducted by OPM. This survey, which preceded implementation of the act but followed its passage, yielded about 14,500 responses. A second survey, which used the same questionnaire, was administered to GS 13&ndash15 employees at four Navy research and development laboratories. The Navy survey produced 2,068 valid responses. Data from these surveys are reproduced in Tables 2-1 and 2-2.

Based on the Federal Employee Attitude Survey, Nigro (1982) reported that employee responses revealed a widespread lack of satisfaction with the pre- 1978 performance appraisal system. Nigro argued that this created a favorable climate for the performance appraisal reforms and that a system that promoted the developmental aspects of performance appraisal stood a good chance of success. He found that employees considered performance appraisals consequential, but that there were problems with the critical link between performance and reward. He concluded that there was potentially large support for the merit pay provisions of the Civil Service Reform Act. Significantly, Nigro also noted that trust in the organization was relatively low and could create serious problems if implementation was conducted in a top-down fashion. From the same data, Bann and Johnson (1984:79) concluded that "&hellip there was neither a wholesale rejection of the old system, nor unqualified support. &hellip [T]hose most dissatisfied with the old system of performance appraisal &hellip were also unhappy with their jobs and with the organization in general. &hellip Those who were relatively content with the old performance appraisal system also placed

more trust in the organization and demonstrated greater satisfaction with their jobs."

It is also important to note, though with less empirical foundation, that the political rhetoric surrounding the Civil Service Reform Act influenced expectations and created both positive and negative perspectives on its likely outcomes. The positive expectations are reflected in the objectives for performance appraisal and merit pay contained in OPM's evaluation plan:

Performance Appraisal

Increase employees' understanding of performance standards.

Ensure effective appraisal of performance.

Ensure equitable appraisal of performance.

Link performance to personnel actions through the performance appraisal process.

Increase the effectiveness of employees and supervisors.

Improve the quality of federal working life.

Contribute to agency productivity.

Merit Pay

Relate pay to performance.

Provide flexibility in recognizing and rewarding good performance with cash awards.

Motivate merit pay employees by making pay increases contingent on performance clarifying job expectations, i.e., defining goals and objectives, increasing competition for recognition and rewards.

Improve the productivity, timeliness, and quality of work in the federal government through better management and more effective programs.

The negative expectations resulted from the punitive tone&mdashthe "bureaucrat bashing," as it came to be known&mdashthat accompanied descriptions of the need for reform. New whistleblower protections were said to be necessary to ferret out waste and fraud greater managerial flexibilities were needed to eliminate deadwood performance appraisal and pay for performance were necessary because federal employees were not productive and did not measure up to their private-sector counterparts (see Ingraham and Barrilleaux, 1983). This, coupled with the characterization of the federal bureaucracy as the "giant Washington

TABLE 2-1 Opinions of Federal Workers Concerning Established Performance Appraisal Systems and Pay-Performance Linkages (1979)

Navy R&D Laboratories Respondents

Performance appraisals do influence personnel actions taken in this organization.

This organization considers performance appraisal to be an important part of a supervisor's duties.

My job performance is carefully evaluated by my supervisor.

The standards used to evaluate my performance have been fair and objective.

My performance rating presents a fair and accurate picture of my actual job performance.

In the past I have been aware of what standards have been used to evaluate my performance.

Did your last performance appraisal help you to:

a. Assess you strengths and weaknesses?

b. Establish a plan for training and development?

c. Determine your contribution to the organization?

d. Improve your performance?

How important is the quality of your performance in determining your pay? *

How important should the quality of your job performance be in determining your pay? *

D = Disagree DK = Don't Know A = Agree NH = Not Helpful SH = Somewhat Helpful H = Helpful NI = Not Important SI = Somewhat Important I = Important

TABLE 2-2 Federal Employee Trust and Confidence in Their Organizations, Supervisors, and Coworkers

Navy R&D Laboratories Respondents

When changes are made in this organization, the employees usually lose out in the end.

Employees here feel you can't trust this organization.

My supervisor deals with subordinates well.

I have confidence and trust in my coworkers.

D = Disagree DK = Don't Know A = Agree

Due to rounding, row percentages may not add up to 100 percent.

marshmallow'' during the presidential campaign created a negative aura around the reforms for many federal employees.

Finally, it is significant that employee expectations about the reform were strongly influenced by the federal pay situation. For senior career managers, the link of federal employees' pay to that of members of Congress created a situation in which they had "topped out," that is, reached the top statutory pay level. Many career executives had been at this level for several years prior to the passage of the act. Absent fundamental pay reform, the pay for performance provisions in the SES were the only means available for escaping the pay cap. In this regard, both the stakes and the expectations were very high.

The Record

The record of the Civil Service Reform Act has been turbulent. The orderly implementation of the act envisioned by the Carter administration was interrupted by the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. President Reagan was not a supporter of the civil service cutting back the size and cost of government was high on the Reagan policy agenda. OPM's human resource function was redefined most planning, evaluation, and research activities were eliminated the organization was downsized and restructured. Because political control of key components of executive branch agencies was considered critical to policy success, a specifically political role emerged for OPM.

Donald Devine, the director of OPM for the first Reagan term, explicitly

espoused the Weberian view of organizations under his direction, OPM emerged as a political management arm of the White House, rather than an agency concerned with broader human resource management issues (Newland, 1983). The organization was not so overtly political in the second Reagan term, and serious efforts were made to address some of the most pressing federal personnel and management problems. Nonetheless, many of the reforms created by the Civil Service Reform Act had been deferred, eliminated, or redefined. Many observers have noted that the reforms were simply overwhelmed by the dramatically changed political environment in which federal agencies existed in the 1980s.

Pay for performance and performance appraisal were also affected by the turbulence of implementation. The experience of the Senior Executive Service is notable in a number of respects. Because it was the first to be implemented, the SES performance appraisal and bonus system was carefully watched by most federal employees. It did not serve as a positive model.

The first SES payouts occurred in the year following passage of the reform. The first agency to complete the process paid out the full amount allowable under the law not only was the number who received bonuses considered excessive in the view of Congress and some other external observers, the proportion of Performance Review Board members who themselves received a bonus was much too high. As a result, six months into the implementation of the SES system, Congress altered the provisions of the act. Under the new provisions, the percentage of SES positions in the agency eligible for a bonus was reduced from 50 to 25 percent. OPM, using its rulemaking authority in an effort to demonstrate its good faith to Congress, further lowered that percentage to 20 percent of the total approved positions.

This dramatic change in the SES pay for performance system had an immediate and negative impact. Members of the SES, who had viewed the bonus system as an escape from the federal pay cap, were disillusioned with the new system. The formation of the Senior Executive Association to lobby Congress for the interests of the SES was one indicator of the disenchantment and dissatisfaction with the reform very early in the implementation process.

The Merit Pay System

If pay for performance was less than triumphant in the Senior Executive Service, how successful was the Merit Pay System (MPS) in rejuvenating the mid-level managerial work force? Its clearest shortcoming was its failure to establish a demonstrable relationship between pay and performance. This failure is attributable to a variety of causes. One of the chief ones was a lack of adequate funding for merit pay. Agencies were required by law to spend no more on the Merit Pay System than they had under the previous General Schedule system. This problem was exacerbated by implementation

difficulties. For example, a dispute between OPM and the General Accounting Office concerning the permissible size of payout led, in September 1981 (one month before payout), to a determination that the OPM formula for calculating the merit pay fund was not in conformance with the statute. The ruling resulted in a modified payout that provided only small differentials among the mid-level managers covered, again undercutting pay for performance principles and diminishing the incentives for supervisors to differentiate among employees.

Because the Merit Pay System was not perceived as fair in some fundamental ways, it failed to establish credible links between pay and performance. Managers who performed satisfactorily often found themselves receiving lesser rewards than their nonmanagerial counterparts at grades 13-15, whose pay was set under the General Schedule. The perceptions of employees that nonperformance factors (e.g., the composition of the pay pool) affected payout and that ratings were arbitrarily modified also diminished the effectiveness of the pay for performance aspects of the system. Employees in most agencies perceived no greater likelihood that their performance would be recognized with a cash award after the establishment of the Merit Pay System than had previously been the case (U.S. General Accounting Office, 1984).

The reported successes of the Merit Pay System in motivating employees emanated primarily from the performance appraisal requirements of the Civil Service Reform Act. Gaertner and Gaertner (1984) reported that developmental appraisals&mdashthose that focused on planning for the coming year and clarifying expectations&mdashwere more effective than appraisals that focused only on past performance. However, developmental appraisal strategies were seldom used, and the pay administration role for appraisals tended to undermine this function. In fact, one study reported a significant drop in the organizational commitment of employees who received satisfactory, but not outstanding, ratings (Pearce and Porter, 1986).

The Performance Management and Recognition System

Although the Merit Pay System did not take effect for most federal managers until 1981, it very quickly became apparent that it performed poorly when judged by the objectives established for it. Relief was sought in legislation, introduced in 1984, that proposed the Performance Management and Recognition System (PMRS). PMRS was enacted on November 8, 1984, but the first payout was made retroactive to the fiscal 1984 performance cycle. Retroactive application created a number of short-term implementation problems (U.S. General Accounting Office, 1987).

The drafters of the legislation sought to retain pay for performance principles but to eliminate the dysfunctions of the original system. Under PMRS, employees are rated at one of five summary rating levels: two levels below fully successful, fully successful, and two levels above fully successful. The system

has three monetary components: (1) employees who are rated fully successful or better are assured of receiving the full general pay or comparability increase. (2) They are also eligible for merit increases, which are equivalent to within-grade increases. The size of the merit increase depends on an employee's position in the pay range and performance rating. (3) In addition to these monies, employees rated fully successful or above also qualify for performance awards or bonuses. Beginning in fiscal 1986, performance awards of no less than 2 percent and no more than 10 percent became mandatory for employees rated two levels above fully successful. Moreover, an agency may give a performance award of up to 20 percent of base salary for unusually outstanding performance. An upper limit of 1.5 percent-of-payroll for all performance awards was placed on agency payout under the system.

PMRS also created Performance Standards Review Boards, modeled after the Performance Review Boards in the Senior Executive Service, to review performance standards within an agency to ensure their validity and to perform other oversight functions. At least half of each board is required to be made up of employees eligible for merit pay. Although the number and functioning of these boards was left to agency discretion, they are required to report annually to the agency head.

Although the evidence is thin, there are some indications that PMRS has functioned better than the Merit Pay System. The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) conducted surveys of employee attitudes at three-year intervals beginning in 1983. The report of the most recent survey (Merit Systems Protection Board, 1990) says that, in 1986 and 1989, 32 and 36 percent, respectively, of the federal employees surveyed believed they would receive more pay for performing better. This represents a substantial increase over the 17 percent of employees surveyed in 1983 who perceived a link between pay and performance and provides an interesting comparison to the Wyatt Company's 1989 report on employee attitudes in private-sector firms that about 28 percent of those surveyed saw a link between their pay and their job performance.

It nevertheless remains true that the conceptual support of pay for performance remains far stronger among federal employees&mdashthe report of the 1989 MSPB survey says that 72 percent of respondents endorse the proposition&mdashthan their support of existing pay for performance systems. Only 42 percent indicated that they would choose to be under a pay for performance system if given the choice about the same proportion of respondents indicated that they would not so choose, many of them citing the shortcomings of the present system as the grounds for their disinclination. The most commonly registered reservations involved (1) the ability and freedom of managers to make meaningful distinctions among levels of performance and (2) the availability of enough money to reward the best performers. The monetary concern coincides with a more general dissatisfaction with pay expressed by 60 percent of respondents to the 1989 MSPB survey.

It is not clear that PMRS has provided the hoped-for motivational stimuli. It is unlikely that pay for performance devices such as merit increases, bonuses, and awards would produce performance effects in the context of a deep, generalized dissatisfaction with pay levels of the kind reported in each of the three MSPB surveys. In addition, even though most merit system employees have received performance awards (U.S. Office of Personnel Management, 1989), the General Accounting Office found that 50 percent of the employees surveyed in the first year of PMRS felt the size of the awards was inadequate. Insofar as performance may be affected by the communication of performance standards, the Performance Management and Recognition System appears to be functioning well. Nine out of ten respondents to the 1989 survey said that they understand the performance standards for their jobs.

A somewhat more negative picture of PMRS emerges from informal surveys of their membership conducted recently by two federal managers' associations. Most of the managers responding to the surveys indicated support for the concept of basing pay on performance. Only 3 percent, however, felt that PMRS should be maintained in its current form and approximately 40 percent said that PMRS should be completely abolished. More than 75 percent of the managers indicated that they believed that their ratings were influenced by officials above their supervisors, that their performance evaluations were of little guidance for development purposes, and that insufficient funds have resulted in meaningless performance awards. Given that the current system is viewed as so unfair and ineffective, there is a concern over whether any new pay for performance system could function effectively.

The evaluations of PMRS to date have been silent with respect to the influence of PMRS on agency effectiveness. The Merit Systems Protection Board has identified a tentative relationship between turnover and performance ratings that suggests that poor performers are more likely than good performers to leave federal service (Merit Systems Protection Board, 1988). However, no such relationship was found between turnover and performance ratings in an earlier study by the General Services Administration (Perry and Petrakis, 1987).


This brief account of civil service reform is a record of modest changes and frequently conflicting objectives, accompanied perhaps by unrealistic expectations about the effects of the reforms on the performance and productivity of federal personnel. Neither the Merit Pay System nor the Performance Management and Recognition System has been able to counteract what, since at least the early 1980s, has come to be called the "quiet crisis" in the federal government. That crisis, according to the National Commission on the Public Service and others, is marked by below-market public-sector salaries, an inability to recruit new employees for many federal occupations, an inability to retain

Merited behavior: Rewarding the 19th century schoolchild

When I was young, one of my favorite things about school was when I could bring something home to show my parents. I relished their approval of countless art projects and watched with glee as my schoolwork received the place of honor on the refrigerator door. For me, the best thing to bring home was not art, or even report cards, but the certificates I received from my teacher congratulating me as an exceptional student the bumper sticker on my parent's car proclaiming "My Kid is an Honor Student" was a point of pride. I was happy to receive the simple tokens that congratulated me on my schoolwork and behavior—and as it turns out, American children have been earning such rewards from their teachers and schools for hundreds of years.

Referred to as rewards of merit, several hundred examples of these tokens of students' progress and teachers' approval are part of the Dr. Richard Lodish American School Collection, and I have had the opportunity to work with many of them—especially those from the mid-to-late 19th century. While some rewards of merit are medallions and pins, most of these rewards are small pieces of paper with either hand-drawn or printed decoration. Some are elaborately ornamented with illustrations and color, while others are simpler, with only the words "Reward of Merit" and the student's name. While the styles vary, each reward had an important meaning for the student: the recognition of a teacher, approval of parents, and establishment among peers.

The behaviors that merited a reward of merit in 19th-century classrooms are not too different from what teachers value today—achievements like focus, attendance, and punctuality. Many of the rewards within the collection feature little poems that tell of a student's hard work and obedience:

How lovely, how charming the sight,
When children their Teacher obey
The angels look down with delight,
This beautiful scene to survey.

Rewards of merit celebrate everything from excellent spelling to perfect attendance. Common themes of industry, focus, and diligence can be found throughout the collection. This shows that the responsibility of teaching and enforcing ethical and moral behavior was placed not only on a child’s parents, but on teachers as well.

In the 19th century, growing numbers of young men and women across America were becoming teachers and needed ways to manage their sometimes unruly charges. Many turned to physical discipline, while others found that giving rewards of merit was a better way to encourage and incentivize good behavior, rather than punishments that discouraged bad behavior. According the 1994 book Rewards of Merit by Patricia Fenn and Alfred P. Malpa, some 19th-century teachers seemed to instinctively understand that giving rewards was more productive. Others looked to more experienced teachers, observing their success with rewards for desired behavior. Some rewards of merit explicitly state what behavior would not be celebrated—tardiness, absence, or "misdemeanors."

One of the most powerful things about rewards of merit is their potential as incentives. Clearly they were valued and praiseworthy—the sheer number of intact rewards in the museum's collection show how much their original owners cherished them. To add even more motivation, those with artwork were often part of collectible series if you continued to behave well in the classroom, perhaps you could collect them all!

Rewards of merit illustrate other things about American history, such as the evolution of the printing process and the inclusion of religious themes in school settings. For myself, the most interesting factor is their role as incentives to encourage students to continue to strive for high standards in their education. Rewards of merit existed at the same time as dunce caps and other types of physical punishment but, while those negative approaches have diminished in use, these physical tokens of praise have stood the test of time. These seemingly innocuous slips of paper document the successes and hopes of generations of children who carried them home to be proudly presented to their parents. And like my refrigerator door prizes, rewards of merit were just as proudly displayed in the homes of our American ancestors.

Jenna Collins completed a fall internship in the Division of Home and Community Life, where she worked with Associate Curator Debbie Schaefer-Jacobs in the Education Collection. She is a recent graduate of Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, with degrees in history and museum studies.

Watch the video: Govt. 2302: 10. Patronage and Merit Systems


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