The Promise of American Life eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 523 pages of information about The Promise of American Life.

II

STATE ADMINISTRATIVE REFORM

The foregoing discussion of the means which may be taken to make American local governments more alive to their responsibilities has been confined to the department of legislation.  The department of administration is, however, almost equally important; and some attempt must be made to associate with a reform of the local legislature a reform of the local administration.  The questions of administrative efficiency and the best method of obtaining it demand special and detailed consideration.  In this case the conclusions reached will apply as much to the central and municipal as they do to the state administrations; but the whole matter of administrative efficiency can be most conveniently discussed in relation to the proper organization of a state government.  The false ideas and practices which have caused so much American administrative inefficiency originated in the states and thence infected the central government.  On the other hand, the reform of these practices made its first conquests at Washington and thereafter was languidly and indifferently taken over by many of the states.  The state politicians have never adopted it in good faith, because real administrative efficiency would, by virtue of the means necessarily taken to accomplish it, undermine the stability of the political machine.  The power of the machine can never be broken without a complete reform of our local administrative systems; and the discussion of that reform is more helpful in relation to the state than in relation to the central government.

Civil service reform was the very first movement of the kind to make any headway in American politics.  Within a few years after the close of the War it had waxed into an issue which the politicians could not ignore; and while its first substantial triumph was postponed until late in the seventies, it has, on the whole, been more completely accepted than any important reforming idea.  It has secured the energetic support of every President during the last twenty-five years; it has received at all events the verbal homage of the two national parties; and it can point to affirmative legislation in the great majority of the states.  It meets at the present time with practically no open and influential opposition.  Nevertheless, the “merit system” has not met the expectations of its most enthusiastic supporters.  Abuses have been abolished wherever the reform has been introduced, but the abolition of abuses has not made for any marked increase of efficiency.  The civil service is still very far from being in a satisfactory condition either in the central, state, or municipal offices.  Moreover, the passage of reform laws has not had any appreciable effect upon the vitality or the power of the professional politician.  The machine has, on the whole, increased rather than diminished in power, during the past twenty-five years.  Civil service reform is no longer as vigorously opposed as it used to be, because it is no longer feared.  The politicians have found that in its ordinary shape it really does not do them any essential harm.  The consequence is that the agitation has drifted to the rear of the American political battle, and fails to excite either the enthusiasm, the enmity, or the interest that it did fifteen years ago.

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The Promise of American Life from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.