About Civil Service

Photo of people in employment situations

When New York became a state, officials and employees had to be appointed to carry on the functions of the new government. People who had done favors for the party in power were given the jobs. The point was to reward the faithful; nobody paid much attention to whether appointees were qualified. This was the patronage or "spoils" system, and that's the way it went for more than a hundred years.

Eventually angry rumblings came from the citizens as incompetence in government became rampant. A national reform movement gathered strength and came to a dramatic climax with the violent death of President James A. Garfield. His assassin was Charles Guiteau, a disappointed jobseeker. This tragedy aroused public demand for an end to the spoils system.

Congress moved swiftly after President Garfield's death, and passed the Pendleton Bill in the closing days of 1882. It became law on January 16, 1883 and enacted the merit system. Under the merit system getting a job depends on the ability and fitness of the candidate rather than party affiliation. New York State, whose early government had displayed most glaringly the evils of the spoils system, was first of the states to take positive action to correct them.

The basis for the merit system in New York State is provided for in the New York State Constitution. Article V, Section 6 of the State Constitution provides; "that appointments and promotions in the civil service of the state and all of the civil divisions thereof, shall be made according to merit and fitness to be ascertained, as far as practicable, by examination which, as far as practicable, shall be competitive." The New York State Civil Service Law was enacted to carry out this constitutional mandate.