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Building Bridges over Troubled Waters: Merit as a Guide


Patricia Wallace Ingraham is Distinguished Professor of Public Administration at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School. She was the founding director of the Alan K. Campbell Public Affairs Institute and a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration. Dr. Ingraham has received the Dwight Waldo, Donald Stone, and Paul Van Riper awards for distinguished research career and distinguished service from the American Society for Public Administration, and the John Gaus Award for distinguished career contributions from the American Political Science Association. Her research interests include the performance of public organizations and leading and managing the people of those organizations. E-mail:


The federal civil service has developed in fits and starts, with specific reforms fashioned in reaction to the particular political considerations of a given time. Yet the concept of merit has remained a central, albeit malleable, sometimes neglected, and perhaps quaint ideal. Reinvention, efficiency, and effectiveness must honor excellence and the notion of public service as a calling.