Federalist Nos. 67–77 How Would Publius Envision the Civil Service Today?

Published date01 December 2011
Date01 December 2011
Linda J. Bilmes is the Daniel Patrick
Moynihan Senior Lecturer in Public Policy in
the John F. Kennedy School of Government
at Harvard University. She is a leading
expert in budgeting and public f‌i nance. She
has held senior positions in government,
including assistant secretary and chief
f‌i nancial off‌i cer in the U.S. Department
of Commerce, and currently serves on
the National Parks Advisory Board. She
is the coauthor of The People Factor:
Strengthening America by Investing
in Public Service (2009).
E-mail: linda_bilmes@harvard.edu
S98 Public Administration Review • December 2011 • Special Issue
Linda J. Bilmes
Harvard University
Federalist Nos. 67–77 of‌f er a strong defense of the
“energetic executive” embedded in the new constitution,
which is perhaps best captured in Alexander Hamilton’s
famous conclusion that “the true test of a good
government is its aptitude and tendency to produce
a good administration.”  is essay places this basic
def‌i nition into historical context by reviewing the erosion
of the national government’s emphasis on public duty as
a prerequisite for ef‌f ectiveness. Reading widely across the
Federalist Papers, the author argues that the founders
would be taken aback by the national government’s sheer
scale and complexity and would strongly restate their
basic principles of a government well executed.
Contemporary policy debate in the United
States frequently revolves around the Con-
stitution and what the founding fathers
intended when they wrote it.  e idea that we should
venerate the founders of the nation and use their
philosophy for guidance is embedded in the legal
system and in much of our thinking regarding the
legislative branch and the presidency. In a nation
in which millions of people hold diverse views, few
Americans question the wisdom of making impor-
tant decisions today based on a document written
two centuries ago.1 For example, in 1999, the U.S.
Supreme Court held that the U.S. government must
conduct a door-to-door count of its 300 million
residents every 10 years—instead of the cheaper and
more accurate statistical sampling method proposed
by the National Academy of Sciences—because the
Constitution calls for an “actual enumeration” of the
population (Department of Commerce v. U.S. House
of Representatives, 525 U.S. 316 [1999]). Congress
was obliged to appropriate billions of extra dollars for
the purpose; the Census Bureau had to redesign its
methodology and belatedly hire hundreds of thou-
sands of additional census takers. No one, however,
seriously disputed the Court’s decision.
We defer to the founders in part because of their
acknowledged brilliance.  eir dedication to creating
an enduring set of rules for the American experiment
is part of the narrative that binds the nation together.
In the sweeping argument for an energetic executive,
Hamilton drew upon many of the pamphlets that
came earlier in what is now known as the Federal-
ist Papers. Of particular note are the many implied
references to Federalist No. 1, which was based on
Hamilton, Jay, and Madison’s own study of classical
civilizations, as well as the European governments of
the day.  ey write, “ e science of politics, like most
other sciences, has received great improvement.  e
ef‌f‌i cacy of various principles is now well understood,
which were either not known at all, or imperfectly
known to the ancients . . .  ere are means, and pow-
erful means, by which the excellencies of republican
government may be retained, and its imperfections
lessened or avoided” (Federalist No. 9).2
Most of the issues that the founders wrestled with
at the outset of the republic are still very much alive
today.  ese include the proper size and power of
the federal government, the policy of borrowing and
f‌i nancing the federal debt, and the appropriate level
of taxation. It has become second nature to cite the
founders in these contemporary debates. Tea Party
meetings often begin with participants reading aloud
from the Constitution to discuss whether today’s gov-
ernment is doing more than originally was intended.
In the executive branch, the sitting president continu-
ally is benchmarked against his illustrious predeces-
sors; occupants of the Oval Of‌f‌i ce frequently look for
guidance in the writings of  omas Jef‌f erson, James
Madison, and other early presidents.
Yet there is one important area of government in
which historical intent is strangely overlooked.  ere
is scant discussion of whether the modern executive
civil service conforms to the principles set forth by the
founders.  is is all the more perplexing because the
evidence suggests that public administration was of
great concern to them.  e word “administration” or
its cognates appear in e Federalist 124 times—more
than the words “Congress,” “president,” and “Supreme
Court” (Richardson and Nigro 1991, 275). Hamilton
Federalist Nos. 67–77: How Would Publius Envision
the Civil Service Today?

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT