Civil servants: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


(Redirected to Civil service article)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Roman civil service in action. Mary of Nazareth and Saint Joseph register for the census before Governor Quirinius, mosaic 1315–20.

The term civil service has two distinct meanings:

  • A branch of governmental service in which individuals are employed on the basis of professional merit as proven by competitive examinations.
  • The body of employees in any government agency other than the military.

A civil servant or public servant is a civilian public sector employee working for a government department or agency. The term explicitly excludes the armed services, although civilian officials will work at "Defence Ministry" headquarters. The term always includes the (sovereign) state's employees; whether regional, or sub-state, or even municipal employees are called "civil servants" varies from country to country. In the United Kingdom, for instance, only Crown employees are civil servants, county or city employees are not.

Many consider the study of civil service to be a part of the field of public administration. Workers in "non-departmental public bodies" (sometimes called "QUANGOs") may also be classed as civil servants for the purpose of statistics and possibly for their terms and conditions. Collectively a state's civil servants form its Civil Service or Public Service.

No state of any extent can be ruled without a bureaucracy, but organizations of any size have been few until the modern era. Administrative institutions usually grow out of the personal servants of high officials, as in the Roman Empire. This developed a complex administrative structure, which is outlined in the Notitia Dignitatum and the work of John Lydus, but as far as we know appointments to it were made entirely by inheritance or patronage and not on merit, and it was also possible for officers to employ other people to carry out their official tasks but continue to draw their salary themselves. There are obvious parallels here with the early bureaucratic structures in modern states, such as the Office of Works or the Navy in 18th century England, where again appointments depended on patronage and were often bought and sold.

An international civil servant or international staff member is a civilian employee that is nominated by an international organisation.[1] These international civil servants do not resort under any national legislation (from which they have immunity of jurisdiction) but are governed by an internal staff regulation. All disputes related to international civil service are brought before special tribunals created by these international organisations such as, for instance, the Administrative Tribunal of the ILO.[2]

Specific referral can be made to the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) of the UN, an independent expert body established by the United Nations General Assembly. Its mandate is to regulate and coordinate the conditions of service of staff in the United Nations common system, while promoting and maintaining high standards in the international civil service.


By Countries



Canada's public service is a large body, with over 200 departments and 450,000 members, including commissions, councils, crown corporations, the Office of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.


Emperor Wen of Sui (r. 581–604), who established the first civil service examination system in China; a painting by the chancellor and artist Yan Liben (600–673).

One of the oldest examples of a civil service based on meritocracy is the Imperial bureaucracy of China, which can be traced as far back as the Qin Dynasty (221–207 BC). During the Han Dynasty (202 BC–220 AD) the xiaolian system of recommendation by superiors for appointments to office was established. In the areas of administration, especially in the military, appointments would be based solely on merit.

After the fall of the Han Dynasty, the Chinese bureaucracy would regress into a semi-merit system known as the Nine-rank system, yet in this system noble birthright became the most significant prerequisite for one to gain access to more authoritative posts.

This system was reversed during the short-lived Sui Dynasty (581–618), which initiated a civil service bureaucracy recruited by written examinations and recommendation. The following Tang Dynasty (618–907) would adopt the same measures of drafting officials, and would decreasingly rely upon aristocratic recommendations and more and more upon promotion based on the written examinations.

However, the civil service examinations were practiced on a much smaller scale in comparison to the stronger, centralized bureaucracy of the Song Dynasty (960–1279). In response to the regional military rule of jiedushi and loss of civil authority during the late Tang period and Five Dynasties (907–960), the Song emperors were eager to implement a system where civil officials would owe their social prestige to the central court and gain their salaries strictly from the central government. This ideal was not fully achieved since many scholar officials were affluent landowners and partook in many anonymous business affairs in an age of economic revolution in China. Nonetheless, gaining a degree through three levels of examination — prefectural exams, provincial exams, and the prestigious palace exams — was a far more desirable goal in society than becoming a merchant. This was because the mercantile class was traditionally regarded with some disdain by the scholar official class. This class of state bureaucrats in the Song period were far less aristocratic than their Tang predecessors. The examinations were carefully structured in order to ensure people of lesser means than candidates born into wealthy, landowning families were given a greater chance at passing the exams and gaining an official degree. This included the employment of a bureau of copyists who would rewrite all of the candidate's exams in order to mask one's handwriting and therefore make all candidates anonymous and unable to employ favoritism by graders of the exams who might be associated to them and recognize their handwriting. The advent of widespread printing in the Song period allowed many more candidates of the exams access to required Confucian texts which could be utilized in passing the exams.


The civil service in France (fonction publique) is often considered to include government employees, as well as employees of public corporations.

United Kingdom

The civil service in the United Kingdom only includes Crown employees; not those who are parliamentary employees. Public sector employees such as teachers and NHS doctors are not considered to be civil servants. Note that civil servants in devolved government departments in Northern Ireland are not part of the British Civil Service, but constitute the separate Northern Ireland Civil Service.


In Brazil public servants are hired through entrance examinations, known as Public Contests - Concurso Público, in Portuguese -. There are several companies that the government hires to do the examinations, the most known are the Cespe, the Getúlio Vargas Foundation, ESAF, established in universities and the Foundation Cesgranrio. The position is filled according to the examination score.

In Brazil, public officials are privileged compared to the private sector.

  • Culture Pass (yet to be enforced) - About 15% of their salary to spend more on movies, theater and other leisure and culture
  • Maternity leave - Maternity leave for a time in Brazil is 120 days to 180 days are public officials
  • Lifelong employment - It is prohibited to resign civil servants in Brazil, except if there is any occurrence or very serious violation.
  • Wage - The civil servants are among the richest working class in Brazil, depending on the career


The civil service in Spain (funcionariado) is often considered to include government employees, "Comunidades Autónomas" employees as well as city's employees. There are three main bodies on the Spanish civil services, political posts ("puestos de libre designación, level 28-30") with poor or no exam to get them, posts "funcionarios de carrera" with an exam to get them and "personal laboral" posts also with an exam similar of "funcionarios de carrera". There are differences in exams between state, the 17 autonomic communities and the city councils, and differences between "funcionarios" and "personal laboral" exams vary in difficulty from one to others.


The civil service of Ireland includes the employees of the Department of State (excluded are government ministers and a small number of paid political advisors) as well as a small number of core state agencies such as the Office of the Revenue Commissioners, the Office of Public Works, and the Public Appointments Service. The organisation of the Irish Civil Service is very similar to the traditional organisation of the British Civil Service, and indeed the grading system in the Irish Civil Service is nearly identical to the traditional grading system of its British counterpart. In Ireland, public sector employees such as teachers or members of the country's police force, An Garda Síochána are not considered to be civil servants, but are rather described as "public servants" (and form the Public service of the Republic of Ireland).

United States

In the United States, the civil service was established in 1872. The Federal Civil Service is defined as "all appointive positions in the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of the Government of the United States, except positions in the uniformed services." (5 U.S.C. § 2101). In the early 19th century, government jobs were held at the pleasure of the president — a person could be fired at any time. The spoils system meant that jobs were used to support the political parties. This was changed in slow stages by the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883 and subsequent laws. By 1909, almost 2/3 of the U.S. federal work force was appointed based on merit, that is, qualifications measured by tests. Certain senior civil service positions, including some heads of diplomatic missions and executive agencies are filled by political appointees. Under the Hatch Act of 1939, civil servants are not allowed to engage in political activities while performing their duties.

The U.S. civil service includes the Competitive service and the Excepted service. The majority of civil service appointments in the U.S. are made under the Competitive Service, but certain categories in the Diplomatic Service, the FBI, and other National Security positions are made under the Excepted Service. (U.S. Code Title V)

U.S. state and local government entities often have competitive civil service systems that are modeled on the national system, in varying degrees.

As of January 2007, the Federal Government, excluding the Postal Service, employed about 1.8 million civilian workers. The Federal Government is the Nation's single largest employer. Although most federal agencies are based in the Washington D.C. region, only about 16% (or about 288,000) of the federal government workforce is employed in this region.[3]

There are over 1,300 federal government agencies.[4]

Other countries

Danish civil servants queuing after their foreign minister for an airport passport check

Other countries tend to use systems which vary between these two extremes. Germany makes a clear distinction, as in the U.S., between political and official posts (though the threshold is placed rather higher); also see Beamter.

Employees of international organisations (e.g., the United Nations or the International Atomic Energy Agency) are sometimes referred to as international civil servants.

Other meanings

Civil service also means a form of legal conscientious objection, for example the Swiss Civilian Service. More accurately, in this scope Civil service is work of public interest done as a replacement for a military obligation to which one objects. It should be noted that the Finnish "siviilipalvelus", French "service civil", German "Zivildienst", Italian "servizio civile" and Swedish "civiltjänst" all can be translated to "civil service".

See also

External links

Search Wikisource Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article civil service.


  1. ^ For more info see The Law Of The International Civil Service by Chittharanjan Felix Amerasinghe
  2. ^ For more info see International Civil Service Update by Bertold Theeuwes or
  3. ^, Section: Employment, Note: Because data on employment in certain agencies cannot be released to the public for national security reasons, this total does not include employment for the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, and National Imagery and Mapping Agency.
  4. ^
  • Ari Hoogenboom. Outlawing the Spoils: A History of the Civil Service Reform Movement, 1865-1883. (1961)
  • Bodde, D. Chinese Ideas in the West [1]
  • Brownlow, Louis, Charles E. Merriam, and Luther Gulick, Report of the President's Committee on Administrative Management. (1937) U.S. Government Printing Office.
  • Kevin Theakston. The Civil Service Since 1945 (Institute of Contemporary British History, 1995)
  • Leonard D. White, Charles H. Bland, Walter R. Sharp, and Fritz Morstein Marx; Civil Service Abroad, Great Britain, Canada, France, Germany (1935) online
  • P. N. Mathur. The Civil Service of India, 1731-1894: a study of the history, evolution and demand for reform (1977)
  • Schiesl, Martin. The Politics of Efficiency: Municipal Administration and Reform in America, 1880-1920. (1977)
  • Van Riper, Paul. History of the United States Civil Service (1958).
  • White, Leonard D., Introduction to the Study of Public Administration. (1955)


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address