Civil Service Merit System

At the beginning of the 21st century, civil service requires a qualified staff able to meet social demands and changes. To some extend, effective arrangements for governance within the civil service and between the civil services are fundamental elements of a democratic system of the government. In public administration, there are a range of changes from administrative matters in the way business is conducted in the civil service, to legislative changes that provide greater accountability and openness for the work of the civil service. Today, merit system is one of the main tools which help to ensure effective selection, promoting and appointing of staff.

Merit system aims to “maintain high standards of integrity, conduct, and concern for the public interest” 1.  In modern environment, the state merit system regulations, to conform with the standards, bar employees from participating in political activities except to express their views and cast their ballots as citizens. They also are to prohibit disqualification of persons from taking examinations or holding office because of political or religious opinions. State agencies are also required to prepare, adopt, install, and administer classification2 and compensation plans for all positions in the agency, such plans to be based upon investigation

1.Camoes, P.J., Ruhil, A. What Lies Beneath: The Political Roots of State Merit Systems. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 13 (1), (2003): 27.

2. Merit System Principles. 2007. 04 June 2007

and analysis of the duties and responsibilities of each position. If the state agency wishes, its rules may provide that incumbents of positions at the time of the issuance of the standards may be given preference in the examinations to the extent of a waiver of minimum requirements of education and experience for admission to the examinations, and of retention if they receive a mere passing mark in the examination. The Department of Civil Service develops and proposes the following types of examination under the merit system: “open-competitive, promotion, transition, and continuous recruitment”

3. The Federal legislation underlines that vacancies are to be filled whenever practicable by promotion of a qualified permanent employee of the administrative agency upon recommendation by the agency head4. It is stated by the Board that the application of the standards “will promote a career service” A system of service ratings is to be maintained. Removal of permanent employees may take place only for cause, or for reasons of curtailment of work or lack of funds. In the event of removal permanent employees will have the right of appeal to an impartial body through an established procedure provided for in the merit system. According to standards developed by Career Mobile Office:

“Open-competitive examinations are open to anyone who possesses the minimum qualifications as listed on the examination announcement. Promotion examinations are open to permanently appointed State employees. Transition examinations are open to permanently appointed State employees. Continuous Recruitment examinations may be either open-competitive or promotional” 5.

3. “Employee Services’ 2007. New York State. 04 June 2007

4. Dresang, Dennis L. Public Personal Management and Public Policy. (Longman. 2001) 193-194.

5. “Employee Services’ 2007. New York State. 04 June 2007

In many of the states, however, the general charge to set standards has resulted in plans at least for the development of a merit system of selection and in a few instances such systems have been adopted and examinations given. In some cases departments concerned see the need to establish such a system and are willing to begin, but have no money to finance examinations.

The degree to which a state merit plan affecting public assistance personnel carries beyond the state staff depends upon a number of factors; the pattern is a different one for each state6. Among the determinants are the extent to which a state civil service law affects counties and cities; and to what extent and in relation to what factors state public assistance departments control local programs. Certain more or less autonomous local public assistance departments may come under a merit plan independently of the state situation if the county or municipality concerned has a local civil service commission which selects personnel in some or in all branches of local government

7. The influence of the local labor union within the relief agency, and of the more powerful parent groups behind it with which it is affiliated, has been a strong new force in advancing the spread of civil service coverage in certain jurisdictions 8.

The major part of the recruiting program, for non-specialized positions at least, may be directed toward young graduates of generalized institutions of higher education. In this event, promotional avenues will have to be kept clear, training opportunities must be generous, and some limits must necessarily be placed on freedom of competition from persons outside the service–at least for better paid and more responsible positions as they become vacant 9. The more specialized the work of the department concerned, the more the

6. Dresang, Dennis L. Public Personal Management and Public Policy. (Longman. 2001) 308.

7. Ibid, 6-7.

8. Attewell, P., Rothstein, J., Rothstein, R. Merit, Testing and Opportunity. The American Prospect, 11 (September 25, 2000): 19.

civil service agency is disposed to look to the operating department to do much of the actual recruitment 9. Likewise in recruiting for an entire departmental staff the civil service agency is likely to do most of the recruitment for clerical and rank-and-file positions and to rely on the department to search out personnel for technical and professional services.

Career progression should involve individual appraisal and counseling. However, care should be taken to avoid giving staff too long or over ambi­tious career expectations. If these expectations cannot be fulfilled, staff may become disillusioned and frustrated. The process of implementing the tools may also increase citizens’ support for the new system, and increase the political popularity of human services, through citizen participation in improving their effectiveness. A system of collaborative adjustment, in consequence, just might offer human services that are more effective and politically popular than they are under the existing system

10. Community partnerships, however, is more interested in developing an array of family-centered services and supports that may cost more (than the services that some families already receive from the existing system. Debates over these types of issues by a broad base of state and community stakeholders who agree to try to achieve a set of outcome goals for children and families nevertheless have constructive potential, because they entail discussions about the best means to achieve concrete goals11.

Modern examinations usually consist of some combination of a statement of education and experience, which is graded and scored, a written examination, and an oral test. Supplementary to this for special types of positions may be original published material or an original thesis written for the examination, a physical examination, an investigation of


9. US Merit System Protection Board, 2007. 04 June 2007 <>

10. Ibid

11. Dresang, Dennis L. Public Personal Management and Public Policy. (Longman. 2001)  8-10.

character or personal fitness, or a performance test

12. The physical examination or a certificate of health is customarily required for positions involving the performance of manual labor. In some jurisdictions it is part of all examinations. The requirement is commonly made also in situations where absence of age restrictions or the existence of liberal pension and sickness provisions makes this an advisable precaution for reasons of economy. Any or all of the components of the examination may be given weight in the final score. Data which are submitted by candidates on their education and experience may or may not be verified and references may or may not be secured, although reference sources are almost always required on civil service applications

13. While the general public and candidates for civil service positions are under the impression that educational records of candidates are always verified and references consulted by the examining agency, in common practice this kind of “follow-up” is often omitted, particularly where large numbers of people are being examined. Owing to the perfunctory nature of many replies, results are often incommensurate with the effort and expense of securing them 14.

Every state has a Merit System Board which usually consists of 5 members and appointed for a fours year term. “The Merit System Board is an unbiased, independent body that hears and rules on appeals filed by State, county, and municipal merit system employees, candidates for employment, and appointing authorities”15. Management succession planning aims to ensure that a sufficient supply of appropriately qualified and capable men and women

12.Attewell, P., Rothstein, J., Rothstein, R. Merit, Testing and Opportunity. The American Prospect, 11 (September 25, 2000): p. 19.

13. Ibid.

14. Dresang, Dennis L. Public Personal Management and Public Policy. (Longman. 2001) 146.

15 Merit System Board” 2007. New Jersey Department of Personal. 04 June 2007 2007>

are available to meet the future needs of the organization. Such men and women should be available readily to fill vacancies caused through retirement, death, resignation, promo­tion or transfer of staff, or through the establishment of new positions. “Candidates are selected off of the eligible list using the rule of three. The rule of three means that agencies count down the first three people on the list”16 When the examining agency does not check experience and secure references, and the appointing officer has some leeway in appointment, there is obviously every reason why the latter should make careful investigation both of veracity of statements and quality of previous performance of candidates certified for appointment 17.

The written examination is commonly used to test knowledge and the various intellectual processes, and is often employed as a first eliminant of the less well qualified candidates. The interview is used to grade appearance, personality, and other factors which the written examination cannot test; and the evaluation of experience is used to grade presumed equipment. Sometimes the line of demarcation between the functions of these three is blurred. For example, the interview may be used to supplement the candidate’s statement about his training and experience rather than to grade factors of personality.

Oral examination tends to give opportunity for evaluating the individual as a whole instead of in “compartments.” The examining board sees the candidate; hears him; watches his reaction to people as well as to ideas; observes his behavior in favorable and unfavorable situations; sees how he attacks familiar and unfamiliar problems; gets not only his opinion on pertinent topics, but evidence on which it may judge whether his opinions are snap judgments and parrot-like recapitulations or are based on real thinking. Some agencies use an exclusively

16Employee Services’ 2007. New York State. 04 June 2007

17 US Merit System Protection Board, 2007. 04 June 2007 <>

18  Ibid.

professional or technical board, when applicants for a professional or technical position are to be considered, on the theory that only people trained in the profession concerned can pass judgment on a candidate’s fitness. Others use personnel workers for most interviews, regardless of the field involved, on the theory that successful interviewing is a technique of itself. This latter group feels that personnel experts skilled in interviewing can more readily acquire enough knowledge of the job to provide a basis of scoring than experts in the subject of the examination can acquire skill in producing evidence by the interview method 19.

The scoring of training and experience can be based on a prearranged scale–and therefore made more objective–far more easily on a quantitative basis than on a qualitative basis. It is also difficult to weigh and score original essays against one another. It is even sometimes difficult to determine whether such compositions are entirely original. Evaluation of references involves evaluation of the writer as well as of the person whom they concern. All these factors make it difficult to standardize the values given in unassembled examinations 20. .

In general, they are further removed from policy-determination than many officials in other posts commonly included in the classified service. In fact, it would seem that those particular jobs should be as far removed as possible from the patronage system of appointment for reasons of public safety and economy. Proper attention to the personnel function helps to improve the efficiency of the labor force and the level of organizational performance. A share of the credit for securing and extending civil service coverage for public welfare employees in the states concerned must be given to the effectiveness of their legislative campaigns.


19 Dresang, Dennis L. Public Personal Management and Public Policy. (Longman. 2001) 195-6. 20.

20.Merit System Principles. 2007. 04 June 2007

Works Cited

Attewell, P., Rothstein, J., Rothstein, R. Merit, Testing and Opportunity. The American Prospect, 11 (September 25, 2000): p. 19.Camoes, P.J., Ruhil, A. What Lies Beneath: The Political Roots of State Merit Systems. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 13, (2003): 27.Dresang, Dennis L. Public Personal Management and Public Policy. Longman. 2001.“Employee Services’ 2007. New York State. 04 June 2007 <>Merit System Principles. 2007. 04 June 2007 <>“Merit System Board” 2007. New Jersey Department of Personal. 04 June 2007 2007 <>US Merit System Protection Board, 2007. 04 June 2007 <>