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owner, "my boat will be annihilated, and it's the
only boat I have. You have more men."

Rather than fail, the quartermaster purchased
the boat for twelve thousand dollars. He loaded
it with supplies and ammunition, started it up
the river and made his report. Promptly, the
department at Washington refused to ratify the
purchase, and reprimanded the quartermaster
severely for exceeding his authority in purchas-
ing a boat. I submit that the department was

J^he Governmenfs Handicap 155

right. No member of Congress would vote to
give a quartermaster authority to buy a river
steamer. Even the Secretary of the Navy
would need congressional authorization. Fortu-
nately, the boat returned and the quartermaster
tried to get the man to take it back. He re-
fused. Then the quartermaster found a pur-
chaser, sold the boat for twelve thousand five
hundred dollars, paid the purchase price and
sent five hundred dollars to Washington.
Promptly the department refused to ratify the
sale and again reprimanded the quartermaster
because he had sold a boat without authority.
And the department was again right. Congress
never has given and never will give authority
to a quartermaster or anyone to sell a boat or
anything else except after prolonged condemna-
tion proceedings, and then at auction. Any cor-
poration, under like circumstances, would have
made that quartermaster a vice-president. In-
stead his pay was held up, and he faced court
martial until some comptroller risked his official
life and reputation by closing the account, also
in violation of law.

If I remember correctly, it was Colonel Phil-
lips of the regular army who gave me this
chapter from his experience: While in com-
mand at a frontier post he was asked by the

156 Vanishing Landmai'hs

department to make a recommendation concern-
ing a certain matter. Following the regulations,
he referred the matter to his quartermaster. The
quartermaster reported favorably to the colonel
in command, and he, as colonel, joined in the
recommendation and sent it to Washington. In
due time he received instructions to proceed and,
again obeying regulations, he directed the quar-
termaster to carry out the instructions of the
department. This was done and the quarter-
master so reported to the colonel in command,
and the colonel approved this report and for-
warded it to the department. All of this was
regular and would afford no occasion for com-
ment but for the fact that Colonel Phillips, the
officer in command, was also quartermaster. He
had asked himself what had best be done, made
Ills report to himself, approved the report made
to himself, joined in his own recommendation,
then directed himself what to do, reported to
himself that it had been done and then, as com-
mander of the post, had transmitted all the
papers to the department, which, in course of
time, were approved, and one more closed inci-
dent in the military affairs of the United States
of America resulted. He had signed the same
paper seven times and there had been no way
to abbreviate.

The Government's Handicap 157

I submit that if he had been in charge of rail-
road operations, some congestion of freight
would have resulted while all these necessary
formalities were being worked out.

I want it definitely understood that in re-
cording these instances, no criticism is intended.
No material improvement ever can be made
without throwing wide open every conceivable
door and shutter through which fraud and cor-
ruption not only can creep but leap and run.
I give them for no other purpose than to prove
established principles to which there are few if
any exceptions, to- wit: That a republic in
business is an ass.



The common belief that the Post Office Depart-
ment is conducted along approved business
methods is sought to be dissipated.

The advocates of government ownership con-
tinually remind you that the Post Office Depart-
ment is a government managed affair. It is,
and I think I am perfectly safe in saying that
until the government took control of the rail-
roads, cables, telegraph and telephone lines, com-
menced building ships and constructing air-
planes, it was the worst managed institution on
the face of the earth. And it has mattered little,
if any, which political party has had control of
its affairs.

For six years every new post office erected in
the United States has borne upon its corner
stone this inscription: "William G. McAdoo,
Secretary of the Treasury." As you have seen
this evidence of official prominence in city after
city in every state of the Union, have you won-
dered why the name of the Postmaster General


The Post Office 159

did not appear above, or below, or at least on
the rear of the building? It is simply because
the Postmaster General has nothing in the world
to do with the selection of sites, erection of build-
ings, or in their care or improvement. The
Treasury Department buys and pays for the
sites, prepares the plans, erects the buildings,
repairs them, lights them, heats and janitors
them. It also pays the rent of post office quar-
ters where the government has not been as yet
foolish enough to build. The Treasury Depart-
ment also audits the accounts of all postmasters
and not one dollar of all this expense is charged
to postal receipts. Even the salary of the Post-
master General and all his clerks is paid from
appropriations independent of postal revenues.
Then, with no rent to pay, no coal or current to
buy, with janitor and elevator service gratis and
accounts audited, the Post Office Department
has run behind an aggregate of something over
two hundred million dollars. Any express com-
pany would be glad to take the Post Office
Department off the hands of the government if
it could have free rent, free coal, the salaries of
their principal officers paid and all their accounts
audited gratis, for sixty-five per cent of what it
now costs the government to take care of our
mail service.

160 Vanishing Landmarks


Under the Constitution, Congress has charge
of all navigable streams and harbors and it has
spent billions in their improvement. Colonel
Hepburn once made the statement on the floor
of the House that the appropriations for the
improvement of the channel of the JNIississippi
River between St. Louis and the Gulf were
sufficient to have built a ship canal of boiler iron
between these two points. No one ever ques-
tioned the correctness of the statement.

A recent River and Harbor bill contained an
appropriation to dredge the channel of a stream
in Texas where the government's engineers re-
ported there was only one inch of water. An-
other brook in Arkansas with only six inches of
water, got an appropriation. I assume that two
more votes were necessary. I might add for
the reader's information that any stream in the
United States can be made navigable in law by
a joint resolution of the two Houses of Con-
gress saying that it is navigable. Lawyers
would call that navigable de jure but many of
them cannot be made navigable de facto however
much is expended in dredging and widening.



The sole purpose of discussing the Civil Service
System in this connection is to show what must
ensue if the government continues its trend and
enlarges its business operations. Partisan politics
cannot be eliminated, neither does the Civil Ser-
vice secure the most efficient. Concrete and
actual instances are given as illustrations.

So much has been said in favor of Civil
Service by its friends, and so much criticism
offered by those who know httle about it, that
I am impelled to submit a few observations
drawn from five years' experience at the head
of a department having, a portion of the time,
as high as twenty thousand people on its payroll,
over ninety percent of whom were in the classi-
fied service.

It is not my purpose to criticise or commend.
I do intend, however, to make reasonably clear
some of the inevitable conditions that would
ensue if the government should remain operator
or should become owner and operator of rail-
roads, merchant ships, express, cable, telegraph


162 Vanisliing Landmarks

and telephone companies, and other public util-
ities, constructor of airplanes, merchant ships,
and logically producers of all materials and
supplies therefor.

Everyone concedes that to avoid complete
partisan prostitution of these widely-extended
and diversified interests, every agent, servant
and employee, with the possible exception of
unskilled laborers, would have to be covered
under Civil Service. This would palliate the
evil but, as we shall presently see, would not
prevent political manipulation and influence, and
would render efficient service absolutely im-

It will be idle to approach this subject without
recognizing a very marked distinction between
business operations and government service.
Business is conducted primarily for the profit
that legitimately results. The wise man knows,
however, that the better the service, the more
certain his rewards. The merchant who best
serves his customers will have the most custo-
mers to serve, and the lawj^er who best protects
his clients will have the largest and the most
lucrative practice. Service and profit are seldom
divorced. If it be true, as has been said, that a
grateful people will make a beaten path to the
door of him who improves a mousetrap, it is also

Civil Service 163

equally true that the world's financial rewards
are liberal beyond calculation to him who ren-
ders any substantial service.

This principle does not apply to government
matters. Here the ultimate end is not profit,
but power. While a political party may hope
to be continued if its service is acceptable, it has
no right to expect its administration will be ac-
ceptable if it neglects the ordinary methods by
which a23proval is secured — which is politics. In
politics, everything reasonable and honest is
made to serve the ends of politics, exactly as in
business everything reasonable and honest is
made to contribute to profit.

A most natural result of public service is
loyalty to superiors. This is true in a very
marked degree in all government departments.
If government clerks were to vote, I suppose
three-fourths of them would support the party
in power, without regard to whicli party it hap-
pened to be. One-half of the balance would
fear even to vote lest they might cause offense
and prejudice their promotion — the sole con-
sideration with many department clerks — while
only a comparative few would openly support
the opposite party and some of these would sub-
sequently regret it.

A case is current where an official who is sup-

164 Vanishinii: Landmarks


posed not to be devoid of future political ambi-
tion, said to a friend who had witnessed the
obsequious servility of subordinates: "There are
two million of these and every one is a voter."

You will recognize that no promotion, demo-
tion or dismissal within a business organization
invites newspaper comment or criticism from
friend or foe. In government service the exact
opposite is the rule. When constituents inform
a congressman that someone from his district
has had his salary reduced, the whole delegation
from that state get busy. Let it be known that
some clerk has been longer in a department than
another who has received more promotion, and
an explanation is certain to be demanded, and it
is relatively useless to urge inefficiency as the
cause. In such cases the public ascribes but two
causes, politics and favoritism.

While "offensive partisanship" is publicly for-
bidden, it is generally recognized on the inside
that no activity of a partisan character is "offen-
sive" so long as it is quiet, and is exercised in
favor of the party in power. Public officials,
of the rank of postmasters, customs and internal
revenue collectors, and district attorneys are not
expected to be delegates to political conventions,
but I have never known their superiors, when of
the same political faith, to object to their being

Civil Service 165

in the town while the convention is in session,
maintaining suitable headquarters at the hotel,
and even volunteering valuable advice to those
who happen to call, as well as to those who are
sent for.

But politics is not the only weakness of the
system. The public has been taught to believe
that Civil Service examinations result in secur-
ing the most efficient. This is a serious delusion.

Those who take civil service examinations
usually find their names rejected or upon the
eligible list within six months. It takes about
that long to classify. Any time within two years
thereafter the applicant is liable to be certified
and called.

When a requisition is made the Commission
certifies three names. It is not at all likely that
they are the three whose examinations show
them the best qualified. That question is not
considered — applicants either pass or fail. They
are simply the three names at the head of the
list from the state whose quota is not exhausted.
The officer calling for the clerk examines the
records of the certified names and makes a
selection. Thereupon the applicant is notified
to present himself at a given place where the
minimum salary — in normal times seven hundred
dollars per annum — awaits him. Even though

166 Vanishing Landinarks

he took his examination only twelve months be-
fore, the chances are he declines, giving as his
reason that he is now getting a thousand dollars
with good prospects of promotion.

It is only a question of time, however, when
some applicant will be found who, during the
period between examination and certification,
varying from six months to two years and six
months, has been unable to get a job at seven
hundred dollars and he jumps at the chance to
"serve his country."

You knew this must be the way but probably
you had not stopped to analyze it. The Civil
Service screen is so constructed as to catch the
small fish and allow the large ones to escape.
And there is no way known to man to change it
without opening wide the door for favoritism,
which the Civil Service system is supposed to
close and effectively bar.

Nevertheless some of the clerks and employees
selected in this way develop a good degree of
efficiency and prove far better than anyone
would expect from an inspection of the ma-
chinery by wliich they are secured. With
scarcely an exception they are honest and con-
scientious toilers, with very little ambition. A
few have ambition but these should, and usually
do, soon resign.

Civil Service 167

I have in mind a business organization with
several thousand on its payroll. Its operations
extend from ocean to ocean and its employees
include geologists, chemists, engineers of every
kind, purchasing agents, salesmen, superintend-
ents of both construction and transportation,
clerks, clear down to unskilled laborers. Every-
one connected with the organization is made to
understand that any position is open to him pro-
vided he can show greater efficiency than the
incumbent. While most of the force have grown
up within the organization, not all have been
started at the minimum salary nor promoted be-
cause of length of service. The former is in-
sisted upon, and the latter urged, by all friends
of Civil Service.

Imagine such a concern as I have described,
depending upon an outside commission to ex-
amine and certify the people whom it might
employ in its clerical and technical force, and
being bound by its own by-laws not to employ
anyone selected in any other way. Xo business
concern could face competition and survive
under such a system. Yet everyone recognizes
that when applied to government affairs. Civil
Service is not only the best but the only way.
I am not criticising it. I am only showing the
inevitable result if we change the purpose of

168 Vanishing Landmarks

government from the greatest liberty institution
in the world to a corporation for the transaction
of business.

During five years that I recruited the force
of the Treasury Department from names certi-
fied by the Civil Service Commission, nothing
occurred to engender ill feeling. The members
of the Commission and the officers of the Treas-
ury Department understood each other perfectly
and sympathized. Every member of the Com-
mission sought as best he could — subject, of
course, to the restrictions and limitations of his
office — to serve the Treasury Department, and
the Secretary of the Treasury, believing in Civil
Service, reciprocated. There were, however,
some rather plain and expressive letters ex-
changed. Believing that letters that actually
j)assed between departments are the best proof
of conditions as they exist, I have inserted in
the Appendix the material correspondence cov-
ering four distinct cases.

Some of the letters were answered by personal
interviews but enough remains to show the cor-
dial feeling that existed, as well as the nature of
the contentions. It also reveals the earnestness
with which the Secretary of the Treasury sought
some relaxation in the rules which friends of the
system, as well as the members of the Commis-

Civil Service 169

sion, insist must be rigidly enforced, and which
^vere rigidly enforced.

The last case cited relates to a request for
experienced lawyers for special agents of the
Treasury Department. The necessity for these
will be apparent to every experienced business

Many of the tariff rates are ad valorem, the
duty being levied upon the foreign market value
of the imported merchandise. Importers are re-
quired to enter their goods at the price at which
such articles are usually bought and sold in the
country of their origin. Undervaluation by un-
scrupulous importers is the most common way
of defrauding the government. Cases of
alleged undervaluation are tried by the Board of
General Appraisers, at which the importers are
represented by lawyers who make a specialty of
this class of cases. They are not only men of
experience but many of them possess great nat-
ural aptitude. Some, I suppose, make as high
as fifty thousand dollars per annum. The gov-
ernment is represented by attorneys who receive,
if I remember correctly, three thousand dollars
per annum, and the cases are usually prepared
by special agents, or special employees, who re-
ceive from fifteen hundred to two thousand
dollars per annum. The government is at a

170 Vanishing Landmarks

tremendous disadvantage. I have heard it esti-
mated that the Treasury loses two hundred mil-
hon dollars per annum through undervaluations.
I think this is excessive but unquestionably it
runs into tens of millions.

I desired several country lawyers who had
had actual experience in trying cases, and asked
the Civil Service Commission to provide an
eligible list. The need of capable men in this
particular branch of the service is well illustrated
by the following incidents.

Certain importers were entering their mer-
chandise, which had been paid for in Indian
rupees, as costing the bullion value of rupees,
about twenty cents. England was maintaining
the parity of the rupee at about fifty cents in
our money. The Secretary of the Treasury cer-
tified that the rupee was worth fifty cents and
directed that duties be collected accordingly. As
was anticipated, the importers all paid under
protest and one of them prosecuted an appeal.
A decision against the government was rendered
by the Board of General Appraisers and by all
the courts including the Supreme Court of the
United States. I ordered that another case be
made and gave instructions how it should be
prepared. Again, much to my surprise, the gov-
ernment was defeated. Investigation showed

Civil Service 171

that the second case had been prepared exactly
like the first. More detailed instructions were
given and the government was successful, and
more than one million dollars that had been paid
by importers under protest, was saved to the
government and at least two hundred thousand
dollars per annum from then until now. Any
country lawyer with a general practice would
have known how to prepare and present the
case in the first instance.

The Treasury Department has several special
agents in Europe whose business it is to look
after and discover evidence of undervaluation,
as well as other frauds upon the revenues of the
country. The Department knew that certain
merchandise was viciously undervalued, but the
special agents all failed to get material evidence.
Special employees were not then under Civil
Service and I got an up-state lawyer from New
York to accept a position as special employee,
sent him to Europe and he came back with
evidence that secured advances in valuations
which saved the government perhaps fifty thou-
sand dollars a year from one importer alone.

Appendix- "D" will show the material corre-
spondence concerning this particular request for
experienced trial lawyers. My first request is
dated September 20, 1905; my second, October

172 Vanishing Landmarks

14th of the same year. Finally the Commission
replied and its first letter bears date of Decem-
ber 2, 1905. It mentions oral requests also
having been made. Several examinations were
held but up to the time I left the Treasury
Department, March 4, 1907, no eligible list had
been provided containing a single lawyer who
had ever prepared or tried a case in any court.
The department needed at least six, could have
profitably used twelve, but could not and did
not get one. If interested read Appendix "D."
You will detect enough spice to give it a flavor
not its own.

The correspondence set out In Appendix "C"
has reference to a tobacco examiner. Tobacco
intended for Florida was being imported from
Cuba at a certain inland city and then shipped
back to Tampa and Key West. The duty on
unstemmed wrapper tobacco was at that time
$1.85 per pound and only 35 cents per pound
on unstemmed filler tobacco. When any bale
of tobacco contained more than fifteen per cent
wrapper, the entire bale was dutiable as wrapper.
There was a further provision that tobacco from
two or more provinces or dependencies, if mixed,
should be dutiable at $1.85 per pound, regardless
of its character. Naturally, a tobacco examiner
should know something about tobacco. In fact,

Civil Service 173

that is the only subject that a tobacco examiner
need know anything about. The correspondence
will show the efforts made to secure one and
the desire of the Civil Service Commission to
aid, as well as the disaster which it believed
would follow if the Treasury Department was
allowed any voice in the manner of the examina-
tion or in classification of those who took the

Appendix "B" has reference to a tea exam-
iner, another position that, in the opinion of
the Secretary of the Treasury, should be filled
by an expert.

The correspondence with reference to a to-
bacco examiner began some time in 1904. My
first rejection of each of the three names certi-
fied as being eligible is dated December 15, 1904.
The request for a tea examiner was made some-
what later. I quote a paragraph from the Civil
Service Commission's letter of December 9,
1905, which, though written with special refer-
ence to the request for eligil)le trial lawyers,
mentions both tobacco and tea examiners:

"Your attention is also invited to the recent
examination for tea examiner and tobacco exam-
iner at the Port of . Owing to

objections by your Department to eligibles cer-
tified, it became necessary to hold three examina-

1 74 Vanishing Landmarks

tions before a selection was made for tobacco
examiner and two examinations before a selec-
tion was made for tea examiner. The exami-
nations finally resulted in the selection of the
temporary employees, who, in the judgment of
the Commission, after careful investigation, have
no unusual qualifications for the duties to be
performed and came in at the advanced age of
sixty-three years. It seemed to the Commission
so apparent that the examinations in question
had not resulted in securing to the government
the services of the most suitable competitors,
that it became necessary for it to recommend to
the President that it be relieved of all responsi-
bility for these examinations and on November
18th, the President placed in the excepted class,
one examiner of tea and one examiner of to-
bacco at the Port of , which em-
ployees do not now have the status of competi-

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Online LibraryLeslie Mortier ShawVanishing landmarks; the trend toward bolshevism → online text (page 8 of 12)