June 7, 2007

Civil Service exams

I want to look into why government doesn't seem to work very well anymore. I was wondering if anybody had experience over several decades with civil service exams and how they've changed, either federal or local.


My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

The main reason is probably money. The differential between salaries in the private sector and the public sector is probably higher in the US than in any other country, so there is little wonder the public administration do not end up with the best, most qualified people (quite the contrary).

Jeff Burton said...

The only experience I have had is with the foreign service officer examinations. At the time I applied the whole process was bollixed by a discrimination lawsuit. Some women claimed unfair blah blah blah. They re-weighted the english part of the test to get more women. I leave it to Steve Sailer to figure out the unintended side effects. In fact, when I received my scores, they were reported as "in group scores," which I took to mean affirmative action, thumb-on-the-scales kind of rejiggering. The process took two years from 89 to 91, which is one of the reasons why I turned them down in the end. I heard about all this background from a guy who ran a course to prep for the tests.

BJDOuble said...

I passed the Foreign Service written exam, flunked all three secions of the oral. Written was relatively easy, oral emphasized *working well with others.* I think the idea was that, if you're going to live and work with somebody for three years, they better be amiable. Little emphasis on analysis. FS got rid of the demarche section, which was more analytical.

I Have A Dream said...

What if you gave a test and the wrong people did the best? That's been the problem facing the government over the last four decades; here are a few of the ways they've dealt with it:

1. Identify the types of questions most often missed by the desired minorities and remove them. If there is an entrance level test that still includes math it is very likely that handheld calculators will be allowed.
2. Lower the pass point for written exams. What's so bad about a 55 anyway?
3. Create separate lists for those with desired skills (e.g. Spanish bilingual) and a flexible mechanism for determining "need."
4. Reduce the impact of written testing by giving more weight to the interview or oral examination.
5. Rig the oral exam by training examiners to view diversity as equal in importance to education, experience, and communication skills.
6. Utilize a "rule of ten," which allows for the selection of the "best" candidate out of the top ten, rather than honor the numerical order. In practice this makes it easy to jump a qualified white male to get to a coveted minority. For example, if there are two openings and the final list consists of 15 applicants, those scoring 10th and 11th are reachable.
7. Create a mechanism for removing the top scorers who are in the way. Police applicants "not selected" or passed over might be disqualified as needed utilizing the flexibility built into the psych eval, while those on promotional lists might be encouraged to remove themselves so as to increase their chances in the future (playing ball for diversity).
8. When the emphasis is on hiring certain newcomers (as it was with the Vietnamese), drop the credit(s) for military service (since they weren't here to serve).
9. Cheat. Reveal the race and gender of the applicants during the selection hearing (a Civil Service violation) allowing decision-makers to discriminate as needed. This is the fail-safe method. In a world that worships diversity, this is cheating for "all the right reasons."

Peter said...

It's not so much that the civil service exams are bad, it's that once people pass the exams and get government jobs they're pretty much unaccountable to anyone.

Political patronage may be roundly criticized, but the one advantage is that people hired via patronage can be removed in cases of incompetence or bad attitude, much more easily than can civil service hires.

Dave said...

I once got the study guide for the State Department's foreign service officer test -- that looks like an extremely difficult test, though I don't know you'd consider our State Department an effective organization.

Also, one example of a civil service exam selecting a highly intelligent American for government work: Paul O'Neil, the former Treasury Secretary and CEO of Alcoa. According to the story, he was tagging along with a friend to a post office in Fresno in the 1960's where his friend was going to take a civil service test. O'Neil took it for kicks and scored so high it launched his Washington (and later, corporate) career.

dougjnn said...

One very important factor I think is the degree to which affirmative action goals in government have gutted civil service exam standards.

That is, designated minorities are allowed in with just as low a civil service exam score as is necessary to meet the minority hiring goal. In many urban locals with large numbers of minorities this may be much, much higher than the 30+% or so of the national population which is either black, hispanic or Pacific islander/ Amerindian.

Anonymous said...

Not to worry, Immigration and Customs are doing their jobs competently.

A UCSB undergraduate student was arrested last week following a pre-dawn Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid at a Santa Ynez apartment.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, authorities from the largest branch in the Dept. of Homeland Security, were deployed to the Santa Ynez apartment complex on El Colegio Road to investigate irregularities in the paperwork of an Iranian graduate student at 5 a.m. last Wednesday. After she produced her documentation, immigration officials also interrogated the graduate student’s roommate, an undergraduate of Korean heritage, who was allegedly unable to present the same material. The agents then arrested the third-year sociology and philosophy major and took her to a detention facility in Ventura County.

Anonymous said...

I had a very pleasant surprise last week in getting my daughter's passport at the post office.

The local post office seems to be getting more efficient and professional. They knew exactly what they were doing for the passport application, and were very helpful and curteous about what documents we would need.

Then, when a beautiful new (expedited) passport arrived within a week, I could hardly believe I was dealing with a government agancy.

The passport is a work of art, (and once we smash the RFID tag) a (very) small reminder that America can still do some things right.

Maybe the civil service can become a subsidiary of the USPS.

mepo said...

It's creepy how this mirrors the Jewish quota in reverse. The wrong groups doing too well, or the wrong groups doing too badly, either one is a problem.

It's even creepier that the solution to underperformance among minorities is lowered standards. I mean, this might make sense if it were politically necessary to keep government jobs balanced among ethnic groups, and you believed the Jensen/Rushton hypothesis that black (etc) underperformance is genetic and irremediable. But that's far from being proven--and if any of the problem is remediable--crappy schools or lower expectations for behavior for minority kids or lack of breastfeeding or lack of fathers or whatever, it'd be nice if we'd try to do something about it.

William Morris said...

One change that has taken placein recent years is that almost no local or state government prepares its own examination. Almost all of them now rely upon professional tgesting companies. This is both amazing and silly.Those tests are not dificult to prepare. All you need i someone in your personnel office who has aM.A. degree in psychology with a specialty iin psychometics, which is what psychological testing is called. The testing services are simply unbelievavly expensive, bu the local governments feel they have no choice. Once it is alleged that your test is biased againstg blacks or Hispanics, you muszt have an expert, heavily credentialed witness who can testify that he has personally validated every single question. What is meant by "validate" is that blacks or Hispanics do not do any worse(that is, percentage of incorrect answers) on that question than they do on the test as a whole. If there is anyquestionin which blacks or Hispanics have more difficult than they do with the test as a whole, then it must go out.In addition the employer must be required to demonstrate that each question on the test asks for information or skill which is an absolute"business necessity".That phrase comes from the 1969 case of Griggs v. Duke Power. Lower courts have heavily emphasized the "necessity" part of the SupremeCourt opinion, which rules out hiring an employee because it would be helpful or convenientfor him to certains skills or information. It must be a "business necessity". I think you can see why it only makes sense from an employers standpoint to used quotas, and somewhat overweight minority hires as "cushion". WilliamMorris

the wily marmot said...

what i found on the net:
http://www.fedsmith.com/articles/comment.viewall.db.php?replyto=7059&articleID=644&startNum=14
HR Specialist
DoD
Fri Jul 15, 2005 1:48 AM

I took the FSEE before it was replaced by the Professional and Administartive Careers Examination (PACE) about 28 years ago. I beleived in the FSEE and the replacement test, the PACE, but beacuse the PACE test results showed a bias african americans and hispanics scoring lower than other groups it was challenged in court and settled under the "Luevano decree" during the Jimmy Carter era. The PACE in fact only lasted a little over a year before it was scuttled and any and all tests were threatened with challenge.

I have witnessed a "dumbing down" in the quality of staff entering federal service. When I was hired, most of the people that were hired were really intelligent, had good skills, albeit not necessarily work skills but in fact represented some of the best and brightest. I don't see that now. There seems to be an emphasis to hire based more on polictical-diversity goals rather than on strict ability or potential for learning


http://www.fedsmith.com/articles/comment.viewall.db.php?replyto=7077&articleID=644&startNum=21
(...)
Fairness went out the window with the demise of virtually all examinations. FSEE/PACE were rigorous exams that actually stood up under the legal challenge. Carter and Co threw a bone to Dem constituents in '79 by settling the case. Funny thing is that no solution has proven better by any measure - the discrimination riff is still being played on this thread 26 years - a full generation - later.

If you would like to see the effects of "diversity" staffing just look at your local HR staff. Where OPM stats show 80 pct of pro-series HR specs (201,212,221,230,235 etc) had degrees in early 80s, that percentage has fallen to under 50 pct today. My own staff has only about 30 pct with ANY substantial education beyond HS.

(...)

Anonymous said...

I echo the comments on the Foreign Service exam. I took the Foreign Service exam twice in the 1990s, passed the written both times, flunked the oral both times. I thought the written portion was easy. I found the oral portion to less of a "test" than a job interview, it reminded me some of the corporate job interviews I had. The written portion was closer to the common conception of the civil service exam.

The upshot is that we have been probably been getting FSOs in the last fifteen years who are aimiable, who work well with others, and have weak analytical skills. Maybe this is defensible. I've also read that the foreign service, if not the whole State Department, has gotten to be pretty much irrelevant so this may not matter.

I also second the comment about the postal service. Its amazing how much its improved in the last three years.

Anonymous said...

Sailer: the second cloture vote failed. Update your blog!

Steve Sailer said...

I do have a life ...

Anonymous said...

This is a little off topic, but back in the Eighties, during the Reagan Administration, at the height of the popularity of the Cosby Show, which single-handedly created about two decades' worth of the NBC Thursday night phenomenon [at least as I recall it - now watch somebody tell me that Cosby was on Wednesdays], anyway, back during the Eighties, when the Reagan tax cuts took off, and the economy was booming, and Black unemployment was FINALLY heading down, and it looked like American Blacks were FINALLY starting to make something of themselves, back then, in the middle of all this Reagan era hubris, some little wise ass, maybe at Commentary magazine - might have even been Fumento - pointed out that the overwhelming majority of employed blacks were employed in the public sector, rather than the private sector.

Now I've tried googling for that same statistic in the last few years - namely, what percentage of employed blacks are in fact employed in the public sector - but I can't seem to get any hits, and the hits I do get tend to be at 10+ year old academic journals that require paid subscriptions. [By the way, why isn't JSTOR free? Our tax dollars paid for all that crap.]

ANYWAY, if anyone knows the data, and especially how the numbers might have changed over time [have the numbers been moving up, or moving down, or holding steady?], then I'd love to learn about it.

TabooTruth said...

Anonymous 8:00, I really hope you're not right about the FS being irrelevant. I hope to work for them some day.

They are actually revamping the testing process, so that the score is combined with a resume and "personal narrative," to decide who comes to the interview. That's probably a means by which to get more minorities to the interview, where there they can pass them as long as they're not too bad.

God, imagine how much wasted resources and talent is occurring because of the inability to test people because of the threat of lawsuits.

Anonymous said...

I took a basic civil service exam back in 1979 to work as a census enumerator. I can recall that the test didn't seem too hard, in fact I believe that the ACT exam was more difficult (as well as longer). I graduated high school in 1978.

Chris

Cedric Morrison said...

If you have time, interlibrary loan might be able to get you a selection of study guides from the past.

plug said...

Ive been a firefighter for 18 years, this year. Ive taken 4 fire lieutenants civil service exams over the years. My lowest score was a 78 and my highest was an 88. The competition out here is extremely high, with most of the new firefighters, graduating from 4 year colleges, with huge ambitions. I feel like Ive lost my edge, and Im looking for help. A study guide, or practice exams, or, hopefully, a current copy of this years exam, would certainly help me. Anyone out here, that can help me, would be greatly appreciated. Thank You all, and I hope to hear from any of you. PLUG