Does the US have politically neutral civil servants?

I always thought burrowing in was about keeping a job, not extending ideology. Some may make more money in the private sector, but some might prefer a nice government job and pension.

They’re not there to learn about the department. That’s the job of civil servants. They’re there because they already have subject-matter expertise and to implement the president’s policies in a broad manner.

It could be–I saw the process described as an ideological one. I would think these folks could do much better in the short and long term in the private sector, as lobbyists or, especially, for lawyers from any department who would be ticketed for fat paychecks at big firms. But as always, TMMV.

Such figures may or may not be ‘pretty small’ from a US perspective, but what they are is pretty big when set against the number of political appointees in the UK. The only UK government positions that change with each administration are the government ministers, who currently number about 140, and their special advisers, who currently number about 90. Most of the latter have no executive responsibilities, with their role instead being purely advisory. Even allowing for the population difference, those numbers are strikingly smaller.

The “neutral” political appointees are usually the worst.

The number of political appointees is pretty small in the sense that most government workers never meet a political appointee during their career other than a member of the Senior Executive Service. The SES people are only loosely political appointees in the sense that theoretically they can be fired by higher-ups, but they rarely are, and they have worked their way up as regular employees. Also, remember that you have to multiply the number of people in any particular sort of position by a little more than five to compare the U.K. to the U.S., since there are a little more than five times as many people in the U.S. There is surprisingly little change from one administration to the next as far as most government employees are concerned. Also, remember that even changes in the budget for an agency nearly always come from a vote that has passed both the House and the Senate and been signed by the President.

I might be going off very old figures from memory. But I was also talking about more than just cabinet-level appointees.

That reflects a constitutional difference perhaps. In the American system, the president is the executive, so he or she and his or her appointees are actually in charge of formulating and implementing policy. They’re not there just for advisory purposes. They can’t sack government employees willy-nilly, but they can tell them how to do their jobs.

Still, it seems to me that the fundamental distinction between political appointees and government employees are pretty similar between the two systems.

One big difference might be that in America, the “civil service” isn’t a unified hierarchical entity in and of itself. The civil service doesn’t have a structure and a leadership that fosters the careers of its members.

The “civil service” doesn’t decided that senior members have to be moved around from one area of expertise to another. There is no global “civil service exam” (although there is a single Foreign Service exam and a Postal Service exam—the Postal Service is not a government agency, but that’s a different issue)

That’s up to the individual government employees to decide what paths they want to take, what jobs they want to apply for, and how long to stay at them if they get hired.

That is to say, when one gets a job in the federal government, he or she isn’t getting a job “in the civil service.” It’s a job as an IT support specialist in the Transportation Security Administration (which is part of the Department of Homeland Security).

The hiring managers in the TSA will make the decision on the hire, not the “civil service.” And if that IT specialist wants to move to a different job in the federal government—say, in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology at the Department of Veterans Affairs—then he or she will apply for an opening directly with that office.

Also, over the last 25 years or so, a lot of governmental functions have been farmed out to contractors, whose employees do not necessarily have the same kinds of protections that federal employees do. So a lot of government functions are carried out by what are essentially private for-profit companies.

This is true for most local and state agencies as well; there’s a high layer of management that’s politically appointed, and then the career types who do the actual work.

Often, when there was a change of party, it was a dreaded thing, as often when a new mayor or governor was elected, only a handful of the appointees changed, but when the party changed, EVERYONE who was politically appointed by the mayor/governor (or anyone appointed by the appointees) turned over, and they never knew what they were going to get. Dad’s dpartment had real issues (he’d been promoted to the highest level that he could have been *without * being a political appointee), when they did this- they basically took out their director who was competent and had worked in that position for like 15 years, and appointed a political hack over the department, who had no experience in public works or anything like that, but who was buddy-buddy with the incoming mayor and their party.

(source: Dad worked for the City of Houston for 25 years or so, and MiL worked for the Texas state government for something like 30 years)

This article seems to support your view. It also says it’s rare.

Thanks for finding that. Yeah, I didn’t think it was usual practice, but I wanted to raise it as a point of possible interest.