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POLITICAL ASSESSMENTS AND PARTISAN ACTIVITY.
In previous reports the commission has called attention to its lack of power in securing enforcement of the restrictions upon the political activity of competitive employees. These restrictions were incorporated in the civil-service rules on June 3, 1907, and the commission is charged with the duty of securing their observance, and while it has power to investigate the political activity of competitive employees, and to make suggestions or recommendations as to the punishment which seems appropriate to the offense committed, its recommendations have not always been followed, and it has witnessed in some cases the imposition of wholly inadequate penalties or no penalties at all, and in a few cases severe penalties have been inflicted for minor offenses. Investigations of these cases attract attention in the community, and prompt action has a salutary effect in preventing similar cases by making it clear that violations of the rules will not be tolerated. When there is long and unnecessary delay in taking action, when no action is taken, or punishments inflicted which bear little relation to the offense, the commission's efforts to secure a uniform and impartial observance of the rules are rendered futile and public confidence in the integrity of the merit
ystem is weakened. The commission therefore recommends that the rules be amended to make it mandatory upon supervisory officials to carry out its recommendations in these classes of cases.
During the year covered by this report there was an increase in the number of cases arising under the provisions of the Criminal Code relating to the political assessment of Federal employees and under the provision contained in Civil Service Rule I, which prohibits activity in political affairs on the part of competitive employees. This increase may be attributed in part at least to the added opportunities for political service afforded by the general election in November, 1916. In view of the importance of the political campaign which was being waged previous to that election, the commission, in September, 1916, furnished heads of all departments and independent offices with a draft of a proposed warning against violations of the law relating to political assessments and the rule relating to political activity, and requested that some such warning be issued to all persons employed under their jurisdiction. The warning was quite generally circulated as requested, but in spite of the precautionary measures taken, numerous complaints of violations were received by the commission. In some cases ignorance of the provisions of the rule was urged as a defense, but on account of the publicity given there appeared to be little excuse for this plea in the case of any employee who had been in the service for any considerable period, and the commission recommended severe disciplinary measures against employees who had willfully violated the rules in this regard.
A number of complaints of violations of the provisions of the Criminal Code relating to the political assessment of Federal officers and employees were investigated during the year, and as a result an indictment has been secured in one case and three other cases have been referred to the Department of Justice with request that criminal proceedings be instituted. One investigation disclosed what appeared to be a serious violation of the law, the evidence showing that an officer of the Government collected political assessments from a number of subordinate employees by threatening that if they failed to contribute the matter would be reported and they would lose their positions. The evidence was presented to the grand jury, but an indictment was not returned. Recommendation was made for the removal of this official, on which action is still pending. In the case where an indictment was secured, mentioned above, the evidence showed that an official of the United States had solicited and received political contributions from other officers and employees. Recommendation was made for his removal from the service, but no action has as yet been taken.
Several complaints of political discrimination in appointments were investigated by the commission. In many cases it was found that the charges were unfounded, but in a few cases it appeared that, although unknown to the department concerned, political consideration had affected the action taken. The commission recommended the removal of the persons so appointed, but was not successful in having its recommendations carried into effect.
The country-wide investigation of the activities of the National Federation of Storekeepers, Gaugers, and Storekeeper-Gaugers, which was begun in 1915 and not finally completed until in September, 1916, deserves mention, in view of the important results accomplished. It was found that the funds of this organization were in large measure raised by what amounted to forced contributions from internalrevenue taxpayers for advertising in souvenir programs of the annual conventions of the federation. These programs were of little value as advertising mediums to these persons, and practically in each case the payment was made to retain the good will, if not to gain the favor of the employees. The Secretary of the Treasury upon the recommendation of the commission issued an order which effectually stopped this practice. It was also found that the funds of the organization had been used to make political contributions in violation of the law. On account of the lapse of time prosecution in most of the cases was barred by the statute of limitations, but disciplinary action was taken against the employees concerned by the Treasury Department, on recommendation of the commission. One case was presented for prosecution, but an indictment was not returned.
As a result of the various investigations of cases under this subject, disciplinary measures were imposed upon employees as follows: Removal or separation from service, 33; reduction, 5; suspension without pay, 23; reprimand or warning, 44. Briefs of the investigations will be found in the appendix to this report.
The increased demands upon the personnel of the civil service by the war have given emphasis to the need of a retirement system. It is too costly to continue the aged and infirm in positions requiring alertness and vigor, especially where they have supervision of other employees, and a retirement system is possible which would be alike in the interests of the Government and of the worker. While inefficiency is a just cause for removal, appointing officers naturally hesitate to dismiss old employees who have become incapacitated after rendering long and efficient service, and a virtual pension system thus exists.
The commission does not favor a system of straight civil pensions. Temporary or permanent injuries received in the performance of duty are already provided for out of the public Treasury in the compensation act of September 7, 1916, which extends to personal injuries sustained while in the performance of duty and applies to all civilian employees of the United States Government.
The commission favors a general system of retiring annuities, based upon length of service, the annuity to be provided by deductions from the salaries of employees invested under the supervision of the Government, the interest on which will be sufficient to provide the annuity to be paid.
A retirement system would give stability to the service, create an inducement to capable men to continue in it, contribute to improved administrative methods, and make possible a standardization of salaries and other needed reforms. The benefits to the service from an equitable retirement system would justify a direct contribution from the public Treasury to create an annuity for superannuated employees in the service at the time the system is established.
On June 30, 1917, the number of rural routes was 43,462, of which number 774 by departmental requirement must be operated by motor vehicles with one carrier for each. On the remaining 42,688 routes, service is rendered by 42,563 carriers. There were 4,119 appointments through examination, 154 by reinstatement, and 158 by transfer from other branches of the service. Of these appointments 311 were to motor rural routes and 609 to newly established wagon
routes. During the year the declinations of appointment numbered 942, resignations 2,418, deaths 261, removals for cause 527, by illness 16, by transfer 93, and separations during probation 2.
FOURTH-CLASS POSTMASTER SERVICE.
During the fiscal year ended June 30, 1917, the Post Office Department reported 3,291 vacancies in the position of fourth-class postmaster at offices paying as much as $180 per annum, of which 2,473 were caused by resignation, 530 by removal, 184 by death, 77 by declination of appointment, 25 by the relegation of the office from the third to the fourth class, and 2 by failure of the incumbent to obtain a competitive classified status as provided by the President's order of May 7, 1913. From 2,422 certificates issued for vacant positions, 2,234 appointments were reported, 1,561 of the appointees being males and 673 females. Six persons were reinstated to the service and 13 were transferred to other branches of the service.
Appointments to vacancies at offices paying less than $180 per annum are made upon the reports of post-office inspectors detailed to secure applicants and to obtain information as to their suitability. The department reported appointments of 2,968 males and 1,227 females based upon such reports during the year. A copy of the inspector's report in each case was forwarded for review and approval by the commission. Of these appointments 828 were at newly established offices, 49 at offices where the incumbent had not attained a competitive classified status, 2,636 were caused by resignation, 389 by removal, 181 by death, and 112 by persons, who were appointed, declining to accept.
1. The commission urges the passage of some such bill as H. R. 10772, Sixty-fourth Congress, first session, to regulate appointments and promotions in the municipal government of the District of Columbia, for the reasons stated in its last annual report.
2. A wider application of the principle of filling the higher administrative positions now unclassified by the promotion of classified employees or upon open competition would be distinctly in the interests of efficiency, stability, and a higher standard in the personnel of the service, and it is urged that consideration be given to the bills which were introduced in Congress in 1910 following the recommendation of the President to grant the Executive the power to include in the classified service all field positions in the Treasury Department, Department of Justice, Post Office Department, Interior Department, and the Department of Commerce, appointments to which now require the confirmation of the Senate.
3. The President has stated that he is thoroughly in accord with the recommendation of the Postmaster General for legislation which will permit of the extension of the classified service to include the positions of presidential postmasters. When these positions are classified the Postmaster General will be able to fill many of them by promotion from the clerical grades, and also by the advancement of postmasters, who have demonstrated their ability, from a smaller post office to one of greater importance.
4. Following the war the Consular Service and our foreign trade will be of increased importance. The system of appointment to the Consular Service rests upon an Executive order, and does not have the sanction of Congress. It is believed that if the system was supported by statute there would be wider public persuasion of its stability. With a greater degree of assured permanence the service would be increasingly regarded as a worthy career, inviting a high type of men in educational attainment.
5. Attention is again invited to previous recommendations regarding statistical information as to the personnel of the service. The Official Register, which is published biennially by the Census Office, at large expense, is merely a directory or finding list of Government employees arranged alphabetically, showing their positions and salaries and the States from which they were appointed, and is of little value for statistical or comparative purpose. It soon becomes out of date and entails an expenditure which does not appear to be warranted by the value of the information which it contains.
As a check upon irregular and illegal appointments, the commission maintains a service history of employees in the classified service, and these service records, being kept up to date on the card system, could at small expense be extended to include all officers and employees except those in the military and naval services. It has been proposed to supersede the Official Register with a volume, published annually, showing the names, positions, salaries, and other information concerning the more important officials and general information of a statistical and comparative nature with respect to the remainder of the personnel, such volume to be compiled from the service records of the commission. This plan would result in a considerable reduction in the labor and expense now involved in the publication of the Official Register. It has been approved by the Department of Commerce, under which the Official Register is published, and the commission renews its previous recommendations for its adoption.
WORK OF THE COMMISSION.
The large expansion of the classified service requires a corresponding increase of the commission's force to provide for the increased number of examinations and appointments. This growth of the