United States Civil Service

In the United States, the civil service was established in 1872. The Federal Civil Service is defined as "all appointive positions in the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of the Government of the United States, except positions in the uniformed services."  In the early 19th century, government jobs were held at the pleasure of the president — a person could be fired at any time. The spoils system meant that jobs were used to support the political parties. This was changed in slow stages by the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883 and subsequent laws. By 1909, almost 2/3 of the U.S. federal work force was appointed based on merit, that is, qualifications measured by tests. Certain senior civil service positions, including some heads of diplomatic missions and executive agencies are filled by political appointees. Under the Hatch Act of 1939, civil servants are not allowed to engage in political activities while performing their duties.

The U.S. civil service includes the Competitive service and the Excepted service. The majority of civil service appointments in the U.S. are made under the Competitive Service, but certain categories in the Diplomatic Service, the FBI, and other National Security positions are made under the Excepted Service. (U.S. Code Title V). U.S. state and local government entities often have competitive civil service systems that are modeled on the national system, in varying degrees.
As of January 2007, the Federal Government, excluding the Postal Service, employed about 1.8 million civilian workers. The Federal Government is the Nation's single largest employer. Although most federal agencies are based in the Washington D.C. region, only about 16% (or about 288,000) of the federal government workforce is employed in this region. There are over 1,300 federal government agencies.