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How refreshing to see a spun of radicalism erupt in the normally prosaic field of federal public personnel administration. Dr. Robert A. Maranto's (1998, this issue) proposal to do away with tenure in the federal service and thereby, in one stroke, wipe out a century's worth of public administration orthodoxy is, I must admit, a bit shocking. Yet, he renders a service to the field. This is so even if, politically, his idea is dead on arrival, a condition common to policy ideas and forensic medicine alike.
Maranto's idea is welcome but not because radicalism is unknown to public administration. Far from it. Those of us who have dallied in the public administration theory network are accustomed to encountering it. The problem with radicalism in the field is not its absence but its uneven spread. Just as the ontological theorists adore revolutionary departures from ordinary thinking, most other scholars in the field, especially those writing about the practicalities of management, analysis, and operational support, have the opposite tendency. They remain devoted to fine-tuning standard social science findings and elaborating on the latest management reforms. Maranto's article is welcome because it rests at the barren center of this usually sterile intellectual landscape.
So, as the polemicist cited in the article's first sentence, I do indeed welcome another argumentative voice and am proud to respond. (I suspect the author's late father would be proud of him too, despite his suspicions to the contrary.) In reacting to the proposal, I have some personal reservations or "buts." (Speaking of anticipating a parent's criticism, my late mother always insisted I overused that preposition.) In the following comments on Maranto's idea, let me first offer these "buts" and then conclude by indicating why I favor trying his theory under certain circumstances even though political acceptance seems unlikely.
My first "but" is that I am unimpressed with arguments based on 19th-century public administration. Maranto contends that under the spoils system at that time of Jackson and Lincoln, government employees were reasonably competent and partisan dismissals quite limited. Although this assessment is probably accurate, I do not see the comparison as relevant. It puts even the proverbial contrast of apples and oranges to shame. …