Most people do not understand the sheer magnitude of the executive branch...3 million federal employees, 99 percent of whom are career civil servants over whom the president has virtually no authority. Seventeen states have fewer citizens than the federal government has bureaucrats. There are only a few thousand positions within the federal government that...the president can fill through political patronage...it is the career civil servants who pull the millions of levers of power, not the few political appointees at the top of every agency. It is very difficult for the appointees to even keep track of the policies being implemented by the career staff, much less change them...This would not be a problem if the career ranks were really filled with nonpartisan individuals...who impartially carried out the policies of the president. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. From the State Department, to the Central Intelligence Agency, to the Department of Justice, and every agency in between, career employees are overwhelmingly partisan liberals...As Richard Perle has eloquently said, when George Bush tried to pull the levers of government, he never realized that they were disconnected from the machinery and the exertion was largely futile. The bureaucracies of these agencies have their own policies and they largely ignored President Bush’s directives and his political appointees, a problem President Obama will not have....In Washington, Conservatives Are Really Never in Power, Hans A. Van Spakovsky, Pajamas Media, 7/15/2009
In Chicago, for generations, it hasn't really mattered if a Mayor was capable of governing. The ward politicians and their hacks had settled the division of the wealth. If someone came in hostile to the vast machine built by the Daley mayoralty, the first one or the current one, they'd be paraded about as if they mattered. Of course they didn't. In Chicago, the ward politician and his or her patronage appointments are the only power worth writing about. Van Spakovsky is one of the first reporters to look at this in Washington, where it's just as rigid a rule: bureaucrats are the real power, in part because there's no mandatory retirement (there are still appointees from Truman, Kennedy and Johnson's Presidencies still working in DC), and in part because Republican Administrations have been unable, or unwilling, to break into the bureaucracies.
One has to suspect that part of the reason is that not many Republicans of any background want to work in a Washington bureaucracy. It is hard to imagine the editors of The Weekly Standard in their shirtsleeves at the State Department. But, the larger part is harder to prove. The writer can give a suggestive anecdote, and is sure that there are hundreds of thousands of similar stories.
One of the writer's grandfathers was a postal worker in a small city west of the Mississippi. For reasons never quite understood by his family, he refused to change party affiliations when Roosevelt was elected. His colleagues at the post office told him that he ought to do it to assure that he'd be considered when it came time to pick an assistant postmaster and, later, a postmaster for the city. He held out for integrity, a good and honorable act, but which led his career at the Post Office to stagnate until Dwight Eisenhhower became President 20 years later, by which time this grandfather's career was within seven years of ending. He did become assistant postmaster, but retired before the next step.
One can't help but think that the same applies on a scale larger than the personal in Washington, that if you don't belong to the ruling party, whether in office, or in the bureaucracy you apply to work in, that you'll never get out of the low level jobs. The ultimate result, of course, is that only one way of thinking obtains in all of the power centers in the nation's capital.
This is only one good reason to bring back the spoils system, which allowed a President and his Cabinet to reappoint the entire executive branch in one fell swoop.