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Servants of the people: the uncertain future of the federal civil service.

Servants of the People: The Undertain Future of the Federal Civil Service.

Servants of the People: The Uncertain Future of the Federal Civil Service. By Howard Rosen. Salt Lake City, UT, Olympus Publishing Co., 1985. 188 pp. $12.95, paper.

Howard Rosen has presented a frank, well-written book concerning the Federal Government's personnel system. This is more than just a good textbook about the personnel system, although any professor who chose this as a text would be doing students a favor. It is also a frank assessment of the follies and foibles of the system which the government has saddled itself for many years.

Rosen speaks with the authority of a man who understands the system. If there is a dimension missing from Rosen's perceptions, it stems from the fact that this book represents a personnel view of the system rather than that of a line manager. When he poses the question, "Who Manages the Workforce?' he is eloquent in explaining how the system is weak and outmoded as a management tool, but he never states clearly that it is the managers who are supposed to be using the tool, because they are in charge of the work force and are its most critical element. Thus, managers are let off Rosen's hook.

The author also deals inadequately with the current topic of contracting out work formerly done by civil servants. The chapter entitled, "The Contracting-Out Industry: An Extension of the Federal Labor Force?' treats the issue of government contracting on far too narrow a base, ignoring decades of broader government-industry contract relationships in major program arenas such as military weapons system manufacture, NASA's large scale R&D contracts, and extensive grant-based programs for highways, water treatment, and other public infrastructure.

Finally, Rosen seems reluctant to deal with a difficult question: what happens when, for reasonable and legitimate reasons, the Federal work force must be cut back? He suggests that cutbacks are made solely for short term and questionable reasons. But managers in the private sector and in State and local government have faced numerous situations where cutting back the work force was a correct decision and had to be done. We need to stop denying that this reality cannot and should not occur in the Federal Government. Instead, we need to deal with the necessary political and systemic changes in order to consider this possibility realistically and, where justified, handle cutbacks sensibly and humanely.

If there is a threat to the civil service system, it is, as Rosen states, that the American public will lose the recognition that this enormously talented body of employees are indeed the servants of the people. This ethic is a great strength for government. The most corrosive thing that the political leadership can do is to believe that this talent is irrelevant and unneeded in the conduct of the public's business, and that government can be run on a combination of a deeper, thicker layer of political appointees, and a mass of clerks. Rosen attempts to emphasize that this is bad judgment on the part of politicians. I suggest the American public knows better.
COPYRIGHT 1986 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Bingman, Charles F.
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 1986
Previous Article:Labor market economics.
Next Article:Deindustrialization and the shift to services.

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