The requirement that civil service appointments be based on merit and fitness, as determined by competitive examinations, was the product of the revisions to the New York State Constitution proposed by the Constitutional Convention of 1894. The key sentence of the New York State Constitution highlighted below has remained essentially unchanged since its inclusion in the Constitution more than a century ago.
New York State lead the nation when it became the first state to constitutionalize the civil service system and remove the people who provide the expertise and experience for government departments to perform their functions from the patronage system. It remains a bedrock principle that supports the development of expertise and ensures the continuity of government operations irrespective of partisan control by insulating those who work for the government from the fortunes of the politicians who lead it. It does not protect those at the policymaking or executive level, who may be brought in by a newly elected or appointed political leader in order to help effectuate his or her objectives.
Under the patronage system that existed in the 1800's, employees in government departments and agencies were usually appointed because of their party connections and loyalties without regard to their capabilities, and their term of employment lasted only as long as the term of the politician that appointed them. This worked to the detriment of good governance because it did not insure the employment of competent and capable workers, failed to give them enough time in a position for them to have the experience and develop the expertise to do the job well, and did not allow for experience and expertise to be become prevalent in the government's departments for the benefit of the public.
There is an ongoing debate today over the best and most efficient way of delivering government services; whether hiring workers who pass civil service examination to show competency and capability is more effective than hiring outside contractors to do the work.
Now, more than ever, in New York State and across the country, public workers are under attack as expensive and inefficient, and claims are being made that private industry and outside contractors can do the job better and cheaper. Studies by conservative think tanks and those who have an interest in the privatization of government operations have reported significantly higher costs for public employees and lower costs for private consultants and employees. However, good government groups and public employees unions have criticized those studies as seriously flawed, and have come to the opposite conclusion, namely, that the cost for public employees to do the work was far cheaper. When considering this issue, it is also worth looking at the cost of the profit factor that private industry requires, and whether it will come at the expense of the number and workload of the private sector employees, or their qualifications.
It was reported in "Government Pays More in Contracts, Study Finds", by Ron Nixon, The New York Times, September 12, 2011, that a study by the non-profit Project on Government Oversight found that in 33 of 35 occupations the federal government paid billions of dollars more to hire contractors than it would have cost for government employees to do the work. The article pointed out that the study had found that on average contractors charged the federal government more than twice the amount that it would have cost for government employees to do the same work,
Officers And Civil Departments
§6. Appointments and promotions in the civil service of the state and all of the civil divisions ... shall be made according to merit and fitness to be ascertained, as far as practicable, by examination which, as far as practicable, shall be competitive