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News Release

Friday, January 14, 2005
Contact: Edmund D. Byrnes
Tel: 202-606-2402

OPM Director Kay Coles James Marks the 121st Anniversary of the Pendleton Act; January 16, 2005

James hails the Act that ended the "spoils system"

Washington, D.C. - In recognition of the act that brought an end to the "spoils system" - a system which allowed people to secure federal jobs because of who they knew as opposed to merit - U.S. Office of Personnel Management Kay Coles James congratulated federal Human Resources professionals on the work they do to maintain a fair, open and merit based hiring system.

James said: "The Pendleton Act is a blueprint for a civil service America can respect and trust, and its timeless principles are rooted in the concept of merit. The principles and ideals of a merit-based civil service have served this Nation well throughout our transition from the 1800s to our present position as the world's greatest and most generous superpower."

"Protecting Merit System Principles and Veterans' Preference and avoiding Prohibited Personnel Practices are key to maintaining an effective civil service," stated James. "These are the foundations upon which the federal government stands strong, foundations which must be fervently defended."

Prior to the Civil War, a spoils system existed in the U.S., with people becoming federal employees not because they were the best qualified, but because they had an "in."

However, on January 16, 1883, following the assassination of President James A. Garfield by a disgruntled job seeker, the Pendleton Act dismantled the system of personal patronage, and in its place established a system where a person's qualifications became "most important." The Act required federal positions to be filled through competitive examinations which were open to all citizens, and second, it required selection of the best qualified applicants without regard to political considerations. Merit, as a basis for hiring, was now guaranteed by law.

"The federal team owes a great deal to the Pendleton Act and the man it was named after, Senator George H. Pendleton," said James. "It was because of Pendleton's foresight that an act was passed to create a merit-based civil that has as its foundation knowledge, skills and abilities."

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