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The Enforcement of the Provisions of the
Civil Service Laws
HON. HENRY F. GREENE, OF THE UNITED
The civil service act, which still exists in its original and unamended form, has four sections bearing on the subject of political assessments: Sections II, 12, 13, and 14. In brief, Section 11 prohibits any member of either House of Congress, or member-elect, or any other person holding office under the Federal Government in any of its branches, either directly or indirectly soliciting or receiving or being in any manner concerned in soliciting or receiving any assesment, subscription, or contribution for any political purpose whatever, from any other person in the employ of any branch of the Federal Government. Section 12 prohibits the solicitation in any room or building occupied in the discharge of official duties by any officer or employee of the United States, or in any navyyard, fort or arsenal, or the reception in any such place of any contribution of money for any political purpose whatever. Section 13 prohibits the promotion or demotion of any officer or employee of the United States for failure to pay or for paying any assessment for political purposes; and Section 14 penalizes the giving of money or any other valuable thing under any of the circumstances under which the solicitation or receipt of the sum is prohibited by the act.
It will be seen, therefore, that there are two distinct offenses prohibited by the terms of this act. First, the solicitation, receipt or payment of any money or valuable thing for political purposes in cases where the solicitation is made by one officer of the United States from
another, or the payment is made to one officer of the United States by another; and, secondly, the solicitation by any person of contributions of money in any building or room occupied officially by an officer of the United States. And in the former class of cases two distinct offenses are created by the act. First, the solicitation by one office or employee from another; and, secondly, the payment by one officer or employee to another.
This part of the civil service law has always been one of its most popular provisions. It has reasonably well been enforced from the enactment of the act. Gross and open violations of the law have been far less common than have been gross and open violations of any other provisions of the civil service law. Congress has never suspended its operation, as it frequently has the operation of the other provisions of the law in regard to the appointment of Federal officials or employees. At the time the act was passed, it was felt that the money raised from Federal employees was a serious menace to the freedom of elections. Solicitation and payment was then as open and undisguised as appointment, and the amount of money collected by the party in power could reasonably well be estimated on a basis of from five to ten per cent. of the total amount appropriated by the various appropriation bills passed by Congress to the salaries of officials or employees of the Government of whatever grade. Twenty-three years of fairly good enforcement of this provision of the law, together with the gradual extension of the competitive system, partial suppression of pernicious political activity, and the somewhat more lax but still tolerably firm administration of the parts of the civil service law bearing on appointment and promotion, have practically banished from our politics any large or extended use of the money of officials for the purpose of controlling or carrying elections. The extent to which this has been done, of course, varies with
with the different departments of the Government, and varies with the character of the administration. But, on the whole, it may safely be said that the political assessment is as to the Federal service in the main a thing of the past.
A recent investigation was held by a representative of the Civil Service Commission in the City of St. Louis, on a charge of a violation of the provisions of the civil service law in regard to assessments. It was found that the law had been, within the construction placed upon it by the Civil Service Commission, violated, although the violation was of rather a technical character; but it was also found that from the 125 employees examined, including many of high rank in the service and many receiving, considering the general pay of Federal employees, fairly good compensation, precisely $16.00 had been collected in a close and rather exciting campaign, for the use of the Republican party in the State of Missouri, and of this $16.00, $5.00 was paid by a man who evidently had no definite idea of any reason for paying it, except a general notion that it might possibly procure him advancement in the service to respond to such calls.
The United States Civil Service Commission from the beginning has always been prompt, and as far as it could be, thorough, in examining this class of cases. There have been, it may be said, four difficulties which have stood in the way of efficient prosecution by the Commission, but which have not prevented a fairly successful enforcement of the law and a considerable number of removals for its violation and several convictions in the criminal courts for offenses against its terms. In the first place, the language of the law itself and the peculiar way in which its terms were shaped in an effort to give them great stringency, raises one obstacle to investigations. It will be noticed that it makes it a crime not only to solicit in any manner, directly or indirectly, assessments for political purposes, but also to pay them; hence every employee who testifies as to a solicitation in any case where the solicitation was followed by payment, has himself committed a crime, and runs a risk of prosecution, removal, and punishment, if his testimony is believed. The Civil Service Commission has never requested the prosecution of any employee for paying assessments, and none such has ever taken place. Nor have there been any large number of cases in which an
employee has been punished for paying assessments. This distinction in practice between the employee who pays and the employee who solicits has been based on the feeling that the payment was coerced, and also on the practical necessity of immunity for one party if evidence was to be obtained. In one case in the year 1896, certain employees testified as to a payment and procured the punishment of a party enforcing the payment. In the following year there was a change in the national administration, and a Republican replaced a Democrat in the Customs Office at Port Huron, Michigan, where this incident took place. Thereupon, the officials who had testified as to making payment under compulsion the year before, and by whose testimony convictions and punishments had been obtained, being Democrats, were removed by the Collector for their violation of the civil service law.
While this instance stands by itself and there are few, if any, cases where avowed punishment has been inflicted upon an employee who has made a payment, and by whose testimony a conviction has been obtained for violation of the law, yet there is always this risk, and the man who has made a trifling payment would therefore, as a rule, prefer to keep quiet rather than to expose himself to further risk.
Furthermore, the shape in which the law stands allows any employee to refuse to testify because his testimony necessarily incriminates himself. In a recent prosecution against an ex-Congressman in Kentucky-a State in which one or two prominent convictions for violations of this law are greatly to be desired the most material witness refused to testify, and sheltered himself under the plea that he could not be forced to incriminate himself. As he was not in the executive civil service, but was an official of the House of Representatives, he could not be compelled to make a statement.
In the earlier history of the Commission, there was a great difficulty arising in this connection from the fact that an employee could refuse to make any statement. In 1899, in the investiagtion of charges made by Mr. Chandler, of New Hampshire, against Senator Gallinger
of that State the Commission's investigation was embarrassed by the refusal of a witness who was interviewed by Commissioner Procter to make any statement. The Commission itself has, under the provisions of the law, no power to compel witnesses to testify; hence the investigation in the case mentioned had to come to an end when the witness refused.
By an amendment to the civil service rules, made by President Roosevelt and enforced by him, persons in the executive civil service are compelled to answer questions propounded by the Commission; hence this difficulty in the way of an investigation has now been partially removed, but it is extremely desirable that the Commission should have the power to subpoena witnesses and to administer an oath.
Another difficulty in the way of the effective prosecution of violations of these sections is found in the fact that any Federal employee making the charge runs a risk of the indignation of his superiors. Removal is certain, unless he makes good, and removal or some other punishment is quite probable, even if he does make good. This comes from the departmental spirit which no one outside the civil service can possibly appreciate. It is also undoubtedly true that frivolous and vexatious charges are quite frequently made by inferior employees against their superiors, and the discipline of the departments requires that the making of such frivolous and vexatious charges should be discouraged. The clerk or carrier, however, in a post-office, who makes charges against the postmaster, and this is equally true of other branches of the service, remains after the charges are investigated under the jurisidiction of that postmaster, unless the latter is himself removed, and it requires firmness and tact on his part to avoid the consequences of having made charges, even where they are sustained. In a recent case clerks who protested against the payment of political assessments and refused to pay them, and who made complaints to the Post Office Department, secured an inspection of the office, and after they had told their story, which, of course, was denied by the postmaster, they were put on night duty and otherwise degraded and punished.