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A civil servant or public servant is a civilian career public sector employee working for a government department or agency. Further workers in non-departmental public bodies may also be classed as civil servants for the purpose of producing statistics. Examples in this category include some employees of so-called QUANGOs. Collectively they form a nation's Civil Service or Public Service.
In the British system of Civil Service, civil servants are career employees recruited and promoted on the basis of their administrative skill and technical expertise, and as such do not include, nor are appointed by, elected officials or their political advisors. Civil servants are expected to be politically neutral, and may be prohibited from taking part in political campaigns. However, the extent of this political neutrality in practice has sometimes been questioned.
In the United States, the 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." (United States Code TITLE 5 § 2101). In the early 19th century it was based on the so-called spoils system, in which all bureaucrats were dependent on elected politicians. This was changed by the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883 and today U.S. civil servants are appointed and recruited based on merit, although certain civil service positions, including some heads of diplomatic missions and executive agencies may also be filled by political appointees. 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)
Certain public sector workers may not be classified as civil servants. In most countries, members of the military, for example, are not considered civil servants. In the U.K., employees of the National Health Service and of Local Government Authorities are not civil servants. The British civil service was at its largest in 1976 with approximately three-quarters of a million servants employed. By April 1999 this number had fallen to a record low of 459,600 due to privatization, outsourcing and cutbacks. The number has again risen somewhat since then.
One of the oldest examples of a civil service is the Chinese bureaucracy which during the Tang dynasty relied decreasingly on aristocratic recommendations and more and more upon promotion based on written examinations. The Chinese civil service became known to Europe in the mid-18th century and it is believed to have influenced the creation of civil services in Europe.
Ironically, the first European civil service was not set up in Europe, but rather in India by the East India Company. In order to prevent corruption and favouritism, promotions within the company were based on examinations. The system then spread to the United Kingdom in 1854, and to the United States with the Pendleton Civil Service Act.
- American civil service
- British Civil Service
- French Civil Service
- New Zealand public service
- Singapore Civil Service
- German civil servant ("Beamter")
- Civil service of the People's Republic of China
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