Part of the Francoist legacy to Spain was a highly inefficient and cumbersome civil service apparatus. Attempts to reform and to streamline the system of public administration have been hampered by the bureaucracy's traditional resistance to change.
Under Franco, the civil service system was dominated by cuerpos, professional associations of engineers, lawyers, economists, etc., within the civil service, which also performed functions similar to those of trade unions and fraternal organizations. Admission to a cuerpo was on the basis of a competitive examination that was judged by the current members. The cuerpo served as a channel for civil servants to make their demands to the appropriate minister. In addition, the cuerpos were able to exercise considerable influence over hiring and firing of persons for key administrative positions, thereby enabling them to protect their own economic interests. Loyalty to the cuerpo came to take precedence over administrative interests, and rivalry among these bodies added to the inefficiency of the system by hampering coordination among departments.
This bloated bureaucracy extended to the provincial level, where it became increasingly difficult to control. As civil servants increased in number, administrative efficiency declined and corruption flourished. Because of the low salaries traditionally paid to civil servants, the practice of holding more than one job was common. This in turn resulted in fewer hours devoted to administrative functions and a further reduction in efficiency.
In spite of intermittent efforts to reorganize this unwieldy structure, the civil service did not undergo significant change in the immediate post-Franco years. The cuerpos retained their influence, and the bureaucracy proliferated. In 1981 the number of civil servants had reached 1.2 million. Moreover, multiple job-holding had not been eliminated, despite constitutional restrictions against this practice.
When the PSOE came to power in 1982, its leaders took steps to reduce the number of civil servants and to require that they put in a full workday. The government introduced more stringent legislation against multiple job-holding, and it also endeavored to reduce ministerial rivalry. A departmental reorganization was carried out in July 1986, at which time the coordination and the overall control of the civil service became the responsibility of the Ministry of Public Administration.
Nevertheless, the bureaucratic behemoth had not suffered a mortal blow, and most of the abuses were not effectively eliminated. An indication of the resistance to change that prevailed in the civil service was the continued existence of very slow service and therefore of gestorias administrativas, i.e., private firms, the employees of which filled out forms and stood in line for customers, who considered the time saved well worth the price charged. Meaningful reform of the civil service remained on the government's wish list in the late 1980s.
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