Civil Service in NYS

History of Civil Service in New York State

When New York became a state, officials and employees had to be appointed to carry on the functions of the new government. People who had done favors for the party in power were given the jobs. The point was to reward the faithful; nobody paid much attention to whether appointees were qualified. This was the patronage or "spoils" system, and that's the way it went for more than a hundred years.

Eventually angry rumblings came from the citizens as incompetence in government became rampant. A national reform movement gathered strength and came to a dramatic climax with the violent death of President James A. Garfield. His assassin was Charles Guiteau, a disappointed jobseeker. This tragedy aroused public demand for an end to the spoils system.

Congress moved swiftly after President Garfield's death, and passed the Pendleton Bill in the closing days of 1882. It became law on January 16, 1883 and enacted the merit system. Under the merit system getting a job depends on the ability and fitness of the candidate rather than party affiliation. New York State, whose early government had displayed most glaringly the evils of the spoils system, was first of the states to take positive action to correct them.

The basis for the merit system in New York State is provided for in the New York State Constitution. Article V, Section 6 of the State Constitution provides; "that appointments and promotions in the civil service of the state and all of the civil divisions thereof, shall be made according to merit and fitness to be ascertained, as far as practicable, by examination which, as far as practicable, shall be competitive." The New York State Civil Service Law was enacted to carry out this constitutional mandate.  


Who administers the merit system in New York State? 


The Department of Civil Service and the State Civil Service Commission exercise authority over the classified service of the State. While many people make no distinction between the Department and Commission, each maintains its own independent identity and functions. General authority and responsibility for the administration of the Civil Service Law is vested in the Department. The Commission is vested with broad merit system oversight responsibilities for both State and local government.


Local civil service agencies, under the authority and leadership of the Personnel Officer are responsible for administering the merit system in their civil division in accordance with the State Constitution, the State Civil Service Law and the rules which their local civil service agency has adopted.  Local government employers and human resources professionals share in this responsibility for lawful and effective merit system administration. 


Local Government Civil Service Administration

In New York State, competitive civil service examinations provide a mechanism to ensure that appointments to local public service jobs are based on merit and fitness. Typically, individuals interested in public service employment must demonstrate that they have the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to perform the duties of a position by taking a civil service examination.


Examinations for positions in State government are separate from examinations for positions in local government.  There are many civil service jobs in local government that do not require a competitive civil service examination. Positions that do not require civil service examinations prior to appointment are found in the non-competitive class, labor class, exempt class or the unclassified service. 


Appointments and promotions in all civil divisions of the State shall be made according to merit and fitness, including counties, towns, villages, school districts, special districts and cities. The Department of Civil Service does not administer civil service for local governments. There are over 90 local Civil Service Commissions/Personnel Officers who are responsible for administering the merit system in local government as provided for in Section 17 of the Civil Service Law.


Each county is responsible for administering civil service for the county and all civil divisions within the county, including towns, villages, school districts, BOCES, special districts and cities.  Each local civil service agency also adopts civil service rules to help them follow the requirements of the Civil Service Law. 


Additional Resources