Chapter Study Outline

Bureaucracy and Bureaucrats

  1. Bureaucracy is simply a form of organization. Specialization and repetition are essential to the efficiency of any organization.
  2. Despite fears of bureaucratic growth, the federal service has grown little during the past thirty-five years. The national government is large, but the federal service has not been growing any faster than the economy or the society.
  3. The primary tasks of bureaucracy are to implement the laws passed by Congress and issue rules.
  4. Because legislation often sets only broad parameters for government action, this requires bureaucracies to draw up much more detailed rules that guide the process of implementation and also to play a key role in enforcing the laws.
  5. The lower efficiency of public agencies can be attributed to the added political, judicial, legal, and public opinion constraints put on them, as compared with those put on private agencies.
  6. Through civil service reform, national and state governments have attempted to reduce political interference in public bureaucracies by implementing a merit system for hiring and granting certain public bureaucrats legal protection from being fired without a show of cause. At the higher levels of government agencies, including such posts as cabinet secretaries and assistant secretaries, many jobs are filled with political appointees and are not part of the merit system.

The Organization of the Executive Branch

  1. Cabinet departments, agencies, and bureaus are the operating parts of the bureaucracy. Independent agencies, government corporations, and independent regulatory commissions also are part of the executive branch, even though they aren’t considered part of Cabinet departments.
  2. The different agencies of the executive branch can be classified into three main groups according to the services that they provide to the American public. The first category of agencies provides services and products that seek to promote the public welfare. Many of these agencies can be considered regulatory agencies that impose limits, restrictions, or other obligations on the conduct of individuals or companies in the private sector. Rules made by regulatory agencies have the force and effect of law. Some of these agencies are particularly tied to a specific group or segment of American society that is often thought of as the main clientele of that agency.
  3. The second category of agencies works to promote national security from internal and external threats. Two issues arise as these agencies work to ensure the national security: (1) the trade-offs between respecting the personal rights of individuals versus protecting the general public, and (2) the need for secrecy in matters of national security versus the public’s right to know what the government is doing.
  4. The third group of agencies provides services that help to maintain a strong economy. Foremost among these are the agencies that are responsible for fiscal and monetary policy. In addition, the federal government may directly provide services or goods that bolster the economy.

Can the Bureaucracy Be Reformed?

  1. The government has sought to find various ways to make the federal bureaucracy more efficient. The key strategies used to promote bureaucratic reform include reinventing government, termination, devolution, and privatization.
  2. The National Performance Review was an effort under President Bill Clinton to make the bureaucracy more efficient, accountable, and effective. Virtually all observers agreed that the National Performance Review made substantial progress, though some political leaders demanded a more sweeping approach to reforms.
  3. The only certain way to reduce the size of the bureaucracy is to eliminate programs. This rarely happens, because many voters benefit from the services provided by particular programs and will oppose those programs’ elimination.
  4. The next most effect way to reduce the federal bureaucracy is devolution—downsizing the federal bureaucracy by delegating the implementation of programs to state and local governments. Often the central aim of devolution is to provide more efficient and flexible government services. Yet by its very nature, devolution entails variation across the states.
  5. The final way of reducing the size of the bureaucracy is privatization, in which a formerly public activity is picked up under contract by a private company or companies. These programs are still paid for and supervised by government, but the workers providing the service are no longer counted as part of the government bureaucracy. Concerns about adequate government oversight and accountability have escalated in recent years as the scale of contracting has dramatically increased.

Managing the Bureaucracy

  1. Each expansion of the national government during the twentieth century was accompanied by a parallel expansion of presidential management authority, but the expansion of presidential power cannot guarantee responsible bureaucracy.

Congressional Oversight

  1. Although Congress attempts to control the bureaucracy through oversight, a more effective way to ensure accountability may be to clarify legislative intent. When a law is passed and its intent is clear, the accountability for implementation of that law is also clear. Then the president knows what to “faithfully execute,” and the responsible agency understands what is expected of it.
  2. The increasing use of federal contractors raises new questions about democratic accountability. Many of the mechanisms of democratic accountability do not apply to private firms that contract to perform public work.
  3. One of the most troubling aspects of contracting is that private contractors donate millions of dollars each year to political campaigns and lobbying, raising troubling questions about how assertive members of Congress are likely to be in scrutinizing the business practices of important political donors or in moving business from the private to the public sector.

Thinking Critically about Responsible Bureaucracy in a Democracy

  1. On the one hand, the public expresses dislike for “big government,” exemplified by bureaucracy. On the other hand, Americans support many government programs and have high expectations for government. One consequence of these divergent views is that public discussion about bureaucracy is often high on emotion and short on facts.
  2. Finding the right balance between bureaucratic autonomy and public scrutiny is a central task of creating an effective government; it is a one that requires both presidential and congressional vigilance to build an effective and responsive bureaucracy.