What Is Civil Service Reform?

In the United States, civil service reform most commonly refers to the legislation that required government jobs to be given based on merit and not political allegiance. Civil service reform was brought about by the Pendleton Act of 1883 and was drafted in response to the assassination of president James Garfield.

Today, people who apply for government jobs need to be properly qualified in order to be considered as a final candidate. This may seem like an obvious course of action, but it was not always the case. By the time president James Garfield was elected in the late 19th century, a "spoils system" existed, as in "the winner takes the spoils." This meant that every time a new party took control of the White House, thousands of civil servants (government workers) would be fired and replaced with political cronies of the winning party. President Garfield was assassinated by a disgruntled man who was rejected from a government job, providing good impetus for Congress to pass the Pendleton Act.