Constructing, Deconstructing, and Reconstructing Career Civil Service Systems in Latin America

CID Faculty Working Paper No. 204

Merilee S. Grindle
October 2010


Patronage-the discretionary allocation of public sector jobs-continues to be a dominant way government is staffed in most Latin American countries and it is proving resistant to the imprecations of public sector reformers. Despite the ubiquity of patronage systems, however, all major countries in Latin America have legislation establishing a formal civil service system. In fact, such reform initiatives are swept aside or significantly altered after they have been legislated. In this paper, public sector reform initiatives in Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, and Chile confirm that implementation is fraught with opportunities for distorting the intent of law and indicate a series of similar strategies used by the opponents of reform to offset the impact of new legislation. Taken together, such strategies have been remarkably successful in blocking the systematic implementation of civil service laws. Nevertheless, there is evidence that public sectors in each of the case study countries have made advances in the degree of stability, professionalism, and expertise in public offices, even in the absence of a Weberian civil service.