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Becoming a Bureaucrat

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There are two types of bureaucrats in the federal bureaucracy: political appointees and civil servants.

Political Appointees

The president can appoint approximately 2,000 people to top positions within the federal bureaucracy. These people are known as political appointees.

Choosing Political Appointees

The president usually receives nominations and suggestions from party officials, political allies, close advisers, academics, and business leaders on whom to appoint to bureaucratic offices. Sometimes the president appoints loyal political allies to key positions, particularly ambassadorships. This tradition is referred to as the spoils system or simply patronage.

The Civil Servants

In the late nineteenth century, members of the Progressive Party argued that most government jobs should be filled with skilled experts, not unskilled political appointees. In other words, they argued that competence rather than political loyalty should determine who holds these jobs. The civil service consists of the federal employees hired for their knowledge and experience, and it constitutes most of the federal bureaucracy.