The 1961 Constitution provides for a career civil service and establishes standards for performance, advancement, suspension, and retirement. The ideals, however, have been largely ignored in practice in favor of a system based on patronage. Scholars of public administration agreed that the bureaucracy was bloated, inefficient, and often susceptible to corruption.
The junta that assumed power after the 1958 overthrow of the dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez set up a Public Administration Committee that obtained the advice and services of a number of international experts. The committee found the Venezuelan bureaucracy to be unorganized and unprofessional; the experts advised the adoption of a model under which jobs were to be clearly defined, civil service would become divorced from politics, pay scales would be established within accepted guidelines, and the bureaucracy would faithfully follow the directives of government leaders.
Although it became immediately apparent that most, if not all, of the committee's suggestions were unworkable (for example, the notion of a democratic government such as Betancourt's giving life tenure to senior bureaucrats because they had served long years under the Pérez dictatorship), the committee was not totally a failure. As a result of the committee's activities, in 1959 a new Commission on Public Administration undertook the administrative reform of the upper levels of the public service. The commission also established a school in Caracas to train career civil servants, the Graduate Institute of Public Administration (Instituto de Estudios Superiores de Administración--IESA). In spite of IESA's excellent faculty and promising graduates, most of the bureaucracy remained filled with political appointees rather than IESA graduates in the late 1980s.
Cordiplan, in the Office of the President, also was created in 1958. Cordiplan was envisaged as a central agency that would allocate resources within the government and handle budgetary and administrative planning, all on a nationwide basis. Although Cordiplan has been highly regarded and its four- and five-year plans have served as general guides, many of its detailed and imaginative goals for national development have been undercut by a bureaucracy resentful of Cordiplan's clout in budgetary matters.
In 1969 President Caldera charged the Commission on Public Administration with drafting an overall reform plan. The commission submitted a detailed report and plan to the president in 1972, but its sweeping recommendations were never fully implemented. The effort did have some positive results, however. By the end of the 1960s, concepts of regular personnel procedures and civil service tenure had begun to take hold. During the Caldera government, the Central Office of Personnel branched off from the commission and became a force in promoting the professionalization of civil servants.
Carlos Andrés Pérez, during his campaign for the presidency in 1973, promised to further streamline and professionalize the bureaucracy. During the preceding Christian Democratic Party (Comité de Organización Política Electoral Independiente--COPEI) administration of Rafael Caldera, the bureaucracy had grown and many state enterprises had mushroomed. Pérez reacted by creating a separate reform commission to deal solely with state enterprises; the original reform commission became a subsection of Cordiplan in 1977.
Ministerial and regional reorganization plans also have been enacted into law, but their implementation has been minimal at best. Another strain was added when the oil industry was nationalized in 1976, and a whole new bloc of private workers and managers became government employees. This initiated a highly political process, as players within the political system sought to exploit the potential of the state-owned oil industry to provide money, patronage, and jobs to the well connected. Whatever the incentives for reform, the incentives for continued corruption almost invariably have proved stronger.
In spite of its many failings, Venezuelans saw the bureaucracy as an integral part of a system in which service and perquisites went hand in hand. Politicians promised services and appointed bureaucrats to provide those services; the appointees themselves, however, more often than not owed their first allegiance to the politicians rather than to the public. Furthermore, the bureaucracy, like everything else, was concentrated in Caracas; therefore it responded more to the needs of the center than to the demands of the periphery.
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