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Jobs in the executive branch should be filled strictly in accordance with a merit system or in accordance with a political system. It is absolutely impossible to combine the two without citizens of the Nation losing faith in the integrity of their public officials. And personally, I feel that what I have said about postmasters also applies to collectors of customs and United States marshals.
Mr. Chairman, those were just some opening comments I desired to make, and I will be very happy to respond to any questions.
The CHAIRMAN. I am very much intrigued by some of your remarks, Doctor.
First may I make this statement. I do not believe it is possible for either the Civil Service Commission, the President of the United States, the Postmaster General or anyone else, or a combination of all three, to issue any order prohibiting political considerations, and thus control the mind of an individual.
I must assume that if your theory is to be carried out, the Postmaster General, in whom the appointing authority is reposed by this plan, could not consult anyone with reference to whom he should appoint postmaster.
Do you take that view of it?
The CHAIRMAN. How, then, can you say that the man he consults does not have a political motive in his recommendation?
Dr. FLEMMING. You can't be sure of it.
The CHAIRMAN. So that is prefectly clear. What you are doing with this plan is putting it behind an iron curtain, where nobody can see what goes on.
Dr. FLEMMING. No, Mr. Chairman. There I would take issue.
The CHAIRMAN. I want you to take issue, because I want this issue aired.
Dr. FLEMMING. This isn't putting it behind an iron curtain. This is putting the whole process in a goldfish bowl.
The CHAIRMAN. Yes; where everybody can see what is swimming around.
Dr. FLEMMING. No; where everybody can see just what is happening.
The CHAIRMAN. How can you know whom the Postmaster General is consulting and what he is doing?
Dr. FLEMMING. You can know what the Civil Service Commission has done.
The CHAIRMAN. We know now what the Civil Service Commission has done. That is wide open. That is all right, and you are not changing that one iota by this plan.
Dr. FLEMMING. You are, I think, Mr. Chairman, at a very fundamental point. At the present time, any Republican with good sense in any community in the country will not file for a civil-service examination for postmaster, because he knows it is a complete waste of time on his part.
The CHAIRMAN. We know that, but how are you going to change it?
Dr. FLEMMING. That is going to continue to be the situation as long as you have the requirement of senatorial confirmation. And he knows that.
Now, let us assume this plan were put into effect. To answer your question, let's see just exactly how it could operate.
The CHAIRMAN. How it could operate? Let us talk about how it will operate.
Dr. FLEMMING. I am perfectly willing to do that. If this plan is put into effect, and there is a vacancy in the postmastership at Delaware, Ohio, which happens to be my residence at the present time, the Republicans in Delaware, Ohio, as well as the Democrats would understand that they could file applications for the examination. Of course, they can do that at the present time. Also, after the applications have been filed, the examination would be held, just as it is at the present time, and at the conclusion of the examination the Civil Service Commission would establish a register just as it does now.
And now let's assume—this would be a very rare occurrence, I appreciate, but let's assume—that the first three names on that particular list happened to be the names of Republicans. And let's assume that those three names were certified to the Postmaster General. Of course, I am assuming that the party that is now in power is in power while we are working through this hypothetical case. In other words, I am assuming that this hypothetical case will develop at least some time between now and next January.
As I see it, those names should then be submitted to the Postmaster General. The Postmaster General would have to make his selection in accordance with the normal civil-service rules and regulations. If he got a list of that kind today-of course, he would not get it, because you just would not find Republicans going in taking the exam, but if he did get a list of that kind today, we all know what would happen. The name of a Republican would be submitted to the Senate for confirmation. And in all probability the Senate would refuse to confirm. That would put the Postmaster General in a position where he had an incomplete list. And so, he, under civil-service rules, would have the right to go back to the Civil Service Commission and say, “I am entitled to select one out of three. I only have two left. Therefore I want another name on the list.”
Now, by chance, the fourth name might be a Democrat, so his name would go on the list and would go over to the Post Office Department, and of course he would be nominated and he would be confirmed.
But if this particular plan were put into effect, I can say, drawing on my own experience on the Civil Service Commission, that the Postmaster General would have a tough time avoiding the appointment of one of those three Republicans.
In fact, in my judgment, he would have to appoint one of those three Republicans. And that is why I believe in this particular plan. I believe it would serve notice to the people of this Nation that as far as the selection of postmasters is concerned, Republicans and Democrats can compete.
And I would be perfectly willing to admit that if, under my hypothetical case, under this new plan, there were two Republcans and one Democrat on the list, in all probability the Democrat would get the job.
The CHAIRMAN. So all this plan accomplishes is to make it possible for one Republican to get the job where there are three Republicans applying for it. That is about all it amounts to.
Dr. FLEMMING. Now, Senator, why is that important ?
The CHAIRMAN. I am wondering why the Democrats all at once have become so politically generous with the Republicans.
Dr. FLEMMING. Senator, why is that important? It is important from this point of view. I do not know of any single thing that undermines confidence in the civil-service system more than the fact that the Civil Service Commission plays a part in the present selection of postmasters. I said this as a member of the Commission, and I will continue to say it to the Congress:
Do one of two things. Cut the Civil Service Commission completely out of the postmaster selection process, or put it under the merit system a hundred percent.
The CHAIRMAN. Why is that necessary? You give us qualified people, do you not?
Dr. FLEMMING. I know.
The CHAIRMAN. What is wrong with having you give us the qualified people? I do not care if you handle marshals that way or every Government employee that way. As long as you certify to their qualifications, you can let the political authorities make the selection. They are going to do it.
Dr. FLEMMING. When I went out into the country, Senator, and talked to the citizens about this question and then participated in a question and answer period, I always got a question along this line: “You say that in this country we have a system that is endeavoring to select people solely on the basis of merit. How do you explain the last postmaster appointment in this particular community? That is under civil service.”
The CHAIRMAN. Your answer is that the appointment is not under civil service, but the certification as to qualitications is. That is all you will have to tell him.
Dr. FLEMMING. I tried to tell them the truth, and I would simply say, “Postmasters are halfway under civil service. They are not completely under civil service.” And then I would describe the procedure that we have just gone through here. And I would say, “Sure. We conduct an examination. And we try to do the very best job we can. I suspect that the Civil Service Commission spends more money per applicant on postmaster applications than it does for any other single position in the Federal Government at the present time.”
But then I would have to admit that once the examination had been held the selection was made solely on the basis of political considerations. And the citizens of this country don't regard that as a merit system. They regard that as a political system.
The CHAIRMAN. You think they would rather have the Postmaster General make the selection than the man they elect to Congress?
Dr. FLEMMING. I think they would rather have the Postmaster General make the selection under the rules and regulations of the Civil Service Commission.
The CHAIRMAN. Well, what rule can you issue to the Postmaster General other than that he takes one of the top three? What rule can you issue?
Dr. FLEMMING. That is a very important rule. And of course, the Civil Service Commission can say and does say that the selection of one of the top three shall not be based on political or religious considerations.
The CHAIRMAN. You can say it until doomsday, but you cannot prevent it.
Dr. FLEMMING. I would be among the first to admit that, Senator. The CHAIRMAN. Why, certainly you will admit it.
Dr. FLEMMING. And yet there are times when the fact that it was made solely on the basis of political considerations becomes apparent, and there are times when that can be demonstrated by evidence, and there are times when the Civil Service Commission can take action on the basis of that evidence. And because of that fact, appointing officers having some regard for their own reputation in terms of adhering to the laws and the rules and the regulations of the Government may give it a second thought before they move in and make their appointments solely on political grounds.
I would be the last to sit here and admit, however, that under any merit system that man can devise you could completely eliminate political considerations. You might come close to it if you had a rule of one, that is, if you said that the appointing officer had to take the No. 1 man. Personally, I would not advocate that, because I would regard it as poor management to put that into effect.
The CHAIRMAN. Even if you did that, there is no way to be absolutely certain that politics did not place him up there as No. 1 man to begin with.
Dr. FLEMMING. I would admit that.
Senator DWORSHAK. I think, Dr. Flemming, you know as much or more than any other man about the operations of the Civil Service Commission during the past decade. I should like to ask you, on the basis of that experience, and having in mind what you said about eliminating politics, if you believe that the Civil Service Commission operates with complete disregard for partisanship and politics and that the merit system obtains to such an extent that even with unassembled examinations a Republican can apply and get a job under this political system that we have today?
Do you believe that?
Senator DWORSHAK. Yes, I am getting away from postmasters. Let us get out into the other departments.
Dr. FLEMMING. Senator, I not only contend that. I know that.
Senator DWORSHAK. You know that. You know that if a certified list, a register, is submitted, if the appointing officer cannot find the man he wants, a particular friend of his, he is prohibited from asking for new names, a new register, and that he is compelled to select someone whom he does not want ?
Dr. FLEMMING. Senator, I know all of the reasons that can be advanced against names on registers.
I know that appointing officers can be very ingenious in developing reasons. I know that it is very difficult for the Civil Service Commission to get behind their ingenuity at times. And yet after we have said that, I also know that in instance after instance the appointing officer does make his appointment without regard to political considerations.
First of all, Senator, may I say this: Taking a look at our civilservice system as a whole, in many, many instances, the appointing officer in fact is himself a career civil servant who has come up through the career civil service, who values all that the career civil service
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has contributed and can contribute to this country. And he would be the last person in the world to violate the regulations of the Civil Service Commission or the procedures of the Civil Service Commission, either in spirit or in letter.
For example, let us take some of our large scientific establishments in the Federal Government. I am sure that we could probably agree on the fact that the persons who appoint scientists to those particular positions do not check up on the political backgrounds of those persons before they make the appointments. They don't care about that.
Senator DWORSHAK. That is what you think.
Dr. FLEMMING. Well, I know that, in instance after instance, it is the way the system operates.
Senator DWORSHAK. So do I, after having tried to get a few Republicans a job. In the past 13 years I can swear that I have not had a single Republican get any kind of a job under civil service. When he wears the label "Republican," minority party, he is doomed to the extent that he cannot get a job with the civil service. You know it as well as I do.
Dr. FLEMMING. No, Senator, I can't agree with you on that. I will go part way with you on it, because I don't want to indulge in generalizations that cannot be supported by facts.
I am perfectly willing to recognize the fact that under a rule of three, if names are certified for a particular job, and, let's say, it is the type of job that political leaders of either party are interested in, in all probability there are a good many instances throughout the Government where the appointing officer takes a look at that list of three names and if he can find a Democrat on that particular list, with the Democrats in power, he will appoint him.
On the other hand, Senator, I do know, and I am sure that any impartial investigation by this or any other committee would demonstrate the fact, that all over this Government of ours there are appointing officers who get names of eligibles, names of persons who have qualified, and who make no effort whatever to determine what their political affiliations are, but who simply make an effort to find out which one of the three will do the best job.
Senator DWORSHAK. From what you have said, I gather that you draw the inference that you think the Civil Service Commission is reasonably free from partisanship. Is that correct?
Dr. FLEMMING. I will answer your question directly; yes.
Senator DWORSHAK. Now, can you tell me one single instance in the past 10 or 12 years when two of three Commissioners were Republicans ?
Dr. FLEMMING. Of course not.
Senator DWORSHAK. Of course not? Then where is your argument? If it is nonpolitical, but you still have two Commissioners belonging to the majority party, you can sit there and tell me that they disregard politics in their operations? Why do they not have two Republicans out of the three? Why? Tell me. Give me one good reason.
Dr. FLEMMING. One good reason why? Simply because of the fact that the President of the United States has been a Democrat.