Jaime Lee Kucinskas.

Associate Professor of Sociology Jaime Kucinskas co-authored “Politicians may rail against the ‘deep state,’ but research shows federal workers are effective and committed, not subversive,” published recently by The Conversation.

Written with James L. Perry of Indiana University, the article discusses how the role and responsibilities of government workers has evolved over the past 200 years and how federal employees feel about their work today.

Kucinskas and Perry traced the history of civil service from its early days when hiring was by a “spoils system” in which each newly elected president provided jobs to friends and others who had helped him win the election. The system was inefficient, partly because the new hires often had little or no experience for the job they had been given, and because each time a new president was elected, they were replaced.

The Pendleton Act of 1883 “brought about sweeping changes,” the authors said. It brought merit to federal employment, making competence more important than political ties, and providing a level of job security to civil servants. As the U.S. population increased, so did the number of government programs and services administered by government employees. The wide range of programs meant competent, specialized federal employees, committed to their work, were even more necessary.

“You do not want just anyone managing hazardous waste, sending a space shuttle into orbit or managing public lands constituting one-third of the country’s territory,” they wrote.

The article also reiterated some of the findings by Kucinskas and former Hamilton professor Yvonne Zylan in which they interviewed dozens of employees of federal agencies during the Trump administration in 2018 and again in follow-up interviews in 2020.

Even though the percentage of employees leaving their jobs in the time between the two interviews was considerably higher than what is typical during presidential transitions, Kucinskas and Zylan found that the majority of those who said they “did not believe in the ideas behind the Trump presidency [were] careful to follow legal official orders from the administration.”

“That research found these workers were dedicated to serving the public and the Constitution, upholding the missions of their agencies and democracy, and working to support leadership and the elected president,” Kucinskas and Perry wrote.

Kucinskas was also recently awarded a $6,000 Franklin Grant by the American Philosophical Society (APS), which funds travel research, materials, and fieldwork/lab expenses.

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