Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich tonight repeatedly called for a massive overhaul of the federal personnel system during tonight’s GOP debate in Arizona. Said Gingrich:
I agree generally with the need to reform government. I think that if we were prepared to repeal the 130-year-old civil service laws and go to a modern management system, we could save a minimum of $500 billion a year with a better system.
A few minutes later, Gingrich returned to that theme, and asked, “What would a modern system be like? A modern system would be totally different. … It is possible to modernize the federal government.”
Half a trillion in savings by civil service reform seems unbelievably ambitious, given the fact that the government’s total personnel costs — including military and U.S. Postal Service — totaled $432 billion in fiscal 2011. (page 122)
Not to mention the fact that the 130-year-old civil service law Gingrich appeared to be referring to is the 1883 Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act. That was the law that overturned the spoils system that ensured government jobs went to politicians’ well-connected cronies (and got President Garfield killed) and set the principle that they should instead be awarded based on merit. Most civil service critics — including OPM Director John Berry — usually point to the six-decade-old General Schedule as the system that needs to be overhauled or replaced.