As a field, we often relate merit and neutrality to the technical skills needed to be the “best” candidate for a job, but that was not necessarily what civil service reformers had in mind. The civil service system was meant to replace widespread political patronage, but the myth around the origins of the civil service system masked inequalities built into early testing requirements and institutionalized racial inequities in hiring practices. In this article, we argue the founding myth of bureaucratic neutrality was so powerful that it continues to reverberate in our field. We trace the current reverberations of the myth of neutrality through modern hiring practices and the contemporary legal landscape. By doing this, we present a systematic review of this rationalized myth in public employment, using an institutionalism framework. As the myth of bureaucratic neutrality continues to permeate decision-making, policy creation, and implementation, it will continue to institutionalize inequity within the field.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Public Administration
- Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
- affirmative action and equal employment opportunity
- politics and merit