One of the major reforms promoted by the new Special Administrative Region government of Hong Kong after the 1997 handover is that of the civil service. The March 1999 civil service reform consultation document outlined a number of proposed changes ranging from entry and exit, disciplinary measures, performance management, to performance-based reward system and training and development. This article examines the external and domestic forces (and crises) inducing the reform, and puts the discussion within the context of post-1997 political challenges to bureaucratic power. Given that the civil service stands at the outer firing line bearing the brunt of such challenges which interface with a mixture of legitimacy, accountability, probity and operational deficiencies, the significance of the present reform cannot be fully understood within a narrow managerial discourse of reform for greater efficiency and flexibility. The reform in fact represents managerial solutions to problems essentially of a “political” nature. Copyright © 2001 M. Dekker.