Click here to skip navigation Home  |  Subject Index  |  Important Links  |  Contact Us  |  Help

U.S. Office of Personnel Management - Ensuring the Federal Government has an effective civilian workforce

Advanced Search

Theodore Roosevelt

"Government jobs belong to the American people, not politicians and shall be filled only with regard to public service."

Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt's dedication to civil service reform began in 1881 as a member of the New York Civil Service Reform Association. As a New York State Assemblyman, he had worked hard for passage of the New York State Civil Service Act of 1883, the first state civil service act in the nation.

His enthusiasm and perseverance to reform the civil service thrust him into the national spotlight as he challenged the corrupt style of politics in the state of New York.

picture of TR at his deskRoosevelt's enthusiastic efforts on behalf of reform led President Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893) to appoint him as U.S. Civil Service Commissioner in 1889. During his term as United States Civil Service Commissioner (1889-1895) the full force of his energy, enthusiasm, and aggressiveness was put to the task of building up the Federal civil service system.

He undertook the task of reform with the same honesty and zeal that he showed for all of his endeavors. Commissioner Roosevelt believed his role was to create a civil service system that would attract the best people into government. He based his philosophy for reform on three principles:

  • opportunities be made equal for all citizens.
  • only those who had merit be appointed to federal jobs.
  • public servants should not suffer for their political beliefs.

As Commissioner he led efforts to investigate fraud and political abuse in government and expose corrupt government officials. One week into his new job, he recommendedthe removal of examination board members in New York for selling test questions to the public for $50. Later, he had the police arrest Baltimore postal employees who were buying votes for the re-election of President Harrison, who had appointed him four years earlier. His actions demonstrated that civil service laws were going to be enforced regardless of political affiliation.

"I have made the Commission a living force, and in consequence the outcry among the spoilsmen has become furious. But I picture of TR readinganswered militantly that as long as I was responsible, the law should be enforced up to the handle everywhere, fearlessly and honestly."

He left the Commission in 1895 with a reputation for honesty and integrity that still endures. The assassination of President William McKinley (1897-1901) in 1901, elevated Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) to the office of the President.

One of President Roosevelt's goals was the modernization, expansion and reform of the Federal government. As part of his administration, the Commission drafted and implemented the foundations of the modern merit system. His reforms included:

  • definitions for "just cause" for which an employee could be dismissed.
  • requirements for stricter compliance of the restrictions against political activity by federal officials.
  • regulations forbidding disbursing officers from paying the salaries of persons illegally appointed to civil service positions.
  • the establishment of the modern job survey in the Federal service.
  • a position-classification plan based on duties.

picture of President RooseveltThe Roosevelt administration was a time of great expansion of the Federal government, including the formation of new Departments of Commerce and Labor, an addition of almost 150,000,000 acres of public lands as public conservation areas, new laws protecting the health of Americans and regulating the drug industry.

Under President Roosevelt, the competitive service was increased from 110,000 to 235,000, approximately 63.9 percent of the whole executive civil service. For the first time, the merit system had surpassed the spoils system in numbers of jobs in the executive service.

The Theodore Roosevelt Federal Building, the Office of Personnel Management's Washington headquarters, was dedicated to the former Civil Service Commissioner on October 27, 1992. The building is named in honor of his contributions and dedication to the civil service system.