Civil Service Reform, At-Will Employment, and George Santayana: Are We Condemned to Repeat the Past?

Source: Russell L. Williams, Ph.D. and James S. Bowman, Ph.D., Public Personnel Management, Volume 36, No. 1, Spring 2007
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The competing values found in private and public sector models of personnel management animate today’s civil service reform debate. Unfortunately, the antagonists frequently produce as much heat as light as their positions become entrenched and genuine dialogue suffers. In such situations, insights from another time and place can provide a perspective on issues and events. A case in point is philosopher and poet George Santayana who observed in 1905 that, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Drawing upon his work, this critique of civil service reform first briefly reviews the origins of the merit system and the objectives of contemporary changes. Then, a case study in the trendsetting “megastate” of Florida is analyzed. The conclusion speculates on the future of radical reform.

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