The Bureaucracy – Class Notes and Outline

The Bureaucracy – Class Notes and Outline

Read our in-depth essay on the United States Bureaucracy.


1. Compare and contrast the American and British models of government bureaucracy.

2. Sketch the history of the growth of bureaucracy in this country, and the different uses to which it has been put.

3. Discuss the recruitment, retention, and personal characteristics of federal bureaucrats.

4. Show how the roles and missions of the agencies are affected by both internal and external factors.

5. Review congressional measures to control the bureaucracy, and evaluate their effectiveness.

6. List the “pathologies” that may affect bureaucracies, and discuss why it is so difficult to reform the bureaucracy.

Text Outline

I. Distinctiveness of the American bureaucracy

A. Constitutional system and traditions make bureaucracy distinctive

1. Supervision shared by president and Congress

2. Federal agencies share functions with state and local governments

3. Adversary culture leads to closer scrutiny; court challenges more likely

B . Scope of bureaucracy

1. Little public ownership of industry in the United States

2. High degree of regulation in the United States of private industries

II. The growth of the bureaucracy

A. The early controversies

1. Supporters of a strong president argue against Senate consent being required for Senate-confirmed appointees

2. President is given sole removal power but Congress funds and investigates

B. The appointment of officials

1. Officials affect how laws are interpreted, tone and effectiveness of administration, party strength

2. Use of patronage in nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to reward supporters, induce congressional support, build party organizations

3. Civil War a watershed in bureaucratic growth; showed administrative weakness of federal government and increased demands for civil service reform

4. Post-Civil War period saw industrialization, emergence of a national economy-power of national government to regulate interstate commerce became controversial

C. A service role

1. 1861-1901: shift in role from regulation to service

2. Reflects desire for limited government; laissez-faire beliefs; Constitution’s silence on regulatory powers for bureaucracy

3. War led to reduced restrictions on administrators and a slight enduring increase in personnel

D. Depression and World War 11 lead to government activism

1. Supreme Court upheld laws that granted discretion to administrative agencies

2. Introduction of heavy income taxes supports a large bureaucracy

Ill. The federal bureaucracy today

A Direct and indirect growth

1. Modest increase in number of government employees

2. Significant indirect increase in number of employees through use of private contractors, state and local government employees

B Growth in discretionary authority

1. Delegation of undefined authority by Congress greatly increased

2. Primary areas of delegation

a. Subsidies to groups

b. Grant-in-aid programs

c. Enforcement of regulations

C. Factors explaining behavior of officials

1. Recruitment and retention

a . The competitive service: most bureaucrats compete for jobs through OPM

(1) Appointment by merit based on written exam

b. The excepted service: most are appointed by other agencies on the basis of qualifications approved by OPM

c. Competitive service becoming more decentralized-increasing numbers recruited by agency-specific procedures

d. Workers less often blue-collar; increasing diversity of white-collar occupations e. Still some presidential patronage-presidential appointments, Schedule C jobs, non-career executive assignments

(1) Pendleton Act (1883): transferred basis of government jobs from patronage to merit

(2) Merit system protects president from pressure and protects patronage appointees from new presidents (blanketing in)

f. The buddy system

(1) Name-request job: filled by a person whom an agency has already identified for middle- and upper-level jobs

(2) Job description may be tailored for person

(3) Circumvents usual search process but also encourages issue networks based on shared policy views

g. Firing a bureaucrat

(1) Most bureaucrats cannot be fired, although there are informal methods of discipline

(2) Senior Executive Service (SES) can more easily be fired or transferred

(3) SES managers receive cash bonuses for good performance

(4) But very few SES members have actually been fired or even transferred, and cash bonuses not influential

h. The agencies’ point of view

(1) Agencies are dominated by lifetime bureaucrats who have worked for no other agency

(2) Assures continuity and expertise but also gives subordinates power over new bosses: can work behind boss’s back through sabotage, delaying, etc.

2. Personal attributes-social class, education, political beliefs

a . Allegations of critics:

(1) Higher civil servants are elitist

(2) Officials are ideologically biased

b. Results of survey of bureaucrats show that they

(1) Are somewhat more liberal than the average

(2) But they do not take extreme positions

c. Correlation between type of agency and attitudes of employees

(1) Activist agency bureaucrats more liberal (FTC, EPA, FDA)

(2) Traditional agency bureaucrats less liberal (Agriculture, Commerce, Treasury)

d. Bureaucrats’ policy views reflect the type of their work

e. Do bureaucrats sabotage their political bosses?

(1) Most bureaucrats try to carry out policy, even those they disagree with

(2) But bureaucrats do have obstructive powers-Whistleblower Protection Act (1989)

(3) Most civil servants: Highly structured roles make them relatively immune from personal attitudes

This leads to what I call “Bureaucratic Inertia.” Since it is difficult to fire and change those who actually carry out policy, agencies may often continue to do what has been before, regardless of official Presidential policy. Consider the IRS. To what extent would agents of the IRS become “friendlier” just because it was policy. Likewise, if it was a Presidential order, as Commander in Chief, to accept Gays in the military, would the be accepted by Commanders and the rank and file?

(4) Professionals’ loosely structured roles may be influenced by personal attitudes-Professional values help explain how power is used

3. Culture and careers

a. Each agency has its own culture

b. Jobs with an agency can be career enhancing or not

c. Strong agency culture motivates employees

(1) But it makes agencies resistant to change

This is also an aspect of Bureaucratic Inertia.

4. Constraints much greater on government agencies than on private bureaucracies

a . Hiring, firing, pay, procedures, etc., established by law, not by market

b. General constraints

(1) Administrative Procedure Act (1946)

(2) Freedom of Information Act (1966)

(3) National Environmental Policy Act (1969)

(4) Privacy Act (1974)

(5) Open Meeting Law (1976)

(6) Several agencies often assigned to a single policy

c. Effects of constraints

(1) Government moves slowly

(2) Government sometimes acts inconsistently

(3) Easier to block action than take action

(4) Reluctant decision making by lower-ranking employees

(5) Red tape

5. Why so many constraints?

a. Constraints come from citizens: agencies’ responses to demands for openness, honesty, fairness, etc.

6. Agency allies

a. Agencies often seek alliances with congressional committees or interest groups

Harold Seidman estimates that cabinet secretaries spend about 10 percent of their time attending to departmental business and 40 percent of their time testifying before congressional committees.

(1) Iron triangle-client politics

b. Far less common today~politics has become too complicated

(1) More interest groups, more congressional subcommittees

(2) Far more competing forces than ever given access by courts

c. Issue networks: groups that regularly debate government policy on certain issues

(1) Contentious, split along partisan, ideological, economic lines

(2) New president often recruits from networks

IV. Congressional oversight

A. Forms of congressional supervision

1. Creation of agency by Congress

2. Statutory requirements of agency

3. Authorization of money, either permanent, fixed number of years, or annual

4. Appropriation of money allows spending

B. The Appropriations Committee and legislative committees

1. Appropriations Committee most powerful

a . Most expenditure recommendations are approved by House

b. Tends to recommend amount lower than agency request

c. Has power to influence an agency’s policies through “marking up” an agency’s budget

d . But becoming less powerful due to:

(1) Trust funds operate outside the regular government budget

(2) Annual authorizations

(3) Budget deficits have necessitated cuts

2. Legislative committees are important when

a. A law is first passed

b. An agency is first created

c. An agency is subject to annual authorization

3. Informal congressional controls over agencies

a. Individual members of Congress can seek privileges for constituents

b. Congressional committees may seek committee clearance: right to pass on certain agency decisions

C. The legislative veto

1. Declared unconstitutional by Supreme Court in Chadha (1983)

2. Weakens traditional legislative oversight but Congress continues creating such vetoes

3. Their constitutionality is uncertain; debate about the legislative veto continues

D. Congressional investigations

1. Power inferred from power to legislate

2. Means for checking agency discretion and for authorizing agency actions contrary to presidential preferences

3. Means for limiting presidential control-though executive may claim executive privilege

V. Bureaucratic pathologies

A. Red tape–complex and sometimes conflicting rules

B . Conflict-agencies work at cross-purposes

C. Duplication-two or more agencies seem to do the same thing

D. Imperialism-tendency of agencies to grow, irrespective of benefits and costs of programs

E. Waste-spending more than is necessary to buy some product or service

VI. Reforming the Bureaucracy

A. Numerous attempts to make bureaucracy work better for less money

1. Eleven attempts to reform this century alone

2. National Performance Review (NPR) in 1993 designed to reinvent government

a. Differs from previous reforms that sought to increase presidential control

b. Emphasizes customer satisfaction by bringing citizens in contact with agencies

3. NPR calls for innovation and quality consciousness by:

a. Less centralized management

b. More employee initiatives

c. Fewer detailed rules, more customer satisfaction

B. Bureaucratic reform always difficult to accomplish

1 . Most rules and red tape due to struggle between president and Congress or agencies’ efforts to avoid alienating influential voters

2. Periods of divided government worsen matters, especially in implementing policy

a. Republican presidents seek to increase political control (executive micromanagement)

b. Democratic congresses respond by increasing investigations and rules (legislative micromanagement)

Important Terms

Administrative Procedure Act – A law passed in 1946 requiring federal agencies to give notice, solicit comments, and (sometimes) hold public hearings before adopting any new rules.

annual authorization – The practice of a legislative committee determining the amount an agency can spend on a yearly basis. This practice is a recent one and curtails the power of the appropriations committees.

appropriation – Money formally set aside for a specific use; issued by the House Appropriations Committee.

authorization legislation – Legislation that originates in a legislative committee stating the maximum amount of money that an agency may spend on a given program.

buddy system – A job description by an agency which is tailor-made for a specific person. These appointments occur in middle- and upper-level positions in the bureaucracy.

bureaucracy – A large organization composed of appointed officers in which authority is divided among several managers.

bureaucratic culture – An informal understanding among fellow employees of an agency as to how they are supposed to act.

committee clearance – A request made by congressional committees to pass on certain agency decisions. Although usually not binding, it is seldom ignored by agencies.

competitive service – The set of civil servants appointed on the basis of a written exam administered by the Office of Personnel Management or by meeting certain selection criteria.

conflict – A bureaucratic pathology in which some agencies seem to be working at cross-purposes to other agencies.

discretionary authority – The ability of a bureaucracy to choose courses of action and make policies not spelled out in advance by laws.

duplication – A bureaucratic pathology in which two government agencies seem to be doing the same thing.

Freedom of Information Act – A law passed in 1966 giving citizens the right to inspect all government records except those containing military, intelligence, or trade secrets or material revealing private personnel actions.

imperialism – A bureaucratic pathology in which agencies tend to grow without regard to the benefits their programs confer or the costs they entail.

iron triangle – The policy-making network composed of a government agency, a congressional committee, and an interest group. This network is less common today because of the variety of interest groups that exist and the proliferation of congressional subcommittees.

issue network – Members of Washington-based interest groups, congressional staffers, university faculty, experts participating in think tanks, and representatives of the mass media who regularly debate government policy on a certain subject. Such networks are replacing the iron triangles.

laissez-faire – A belief in a freely competitive economy that was widely held in the late nineteenth century.

legislative veto Congressional veto of an executive decision during the specified period it must lie before Congress before it can take effect. The veto is effected through a resolution of disapproval passed by either house or by both houses. These resolutions do not need the president’s signature. In 1983, the Supreme Court ruled such vetoes were unconstitutional, but Congress continues to enact laws containing them.

name-request job – A job in the federal bureaucracy that is filled by a person whom an agency has already identified.

National Environmental Policy Act – A law passed in 1969 requiring agencies to issue an environmental impact statement before undertaking any major action affecting the environment.

non career executive assignments – A form of patronage under the excepted service given to high-ranking members of the regular competitive service, or to persons brought into the civil service at a high level who are advocates of presidential programs.

Open Meeting Law – A law passed in 1976 requiring agency meetings to be open to the public unless certain specified matters are being discussed.

oversight – Congressional supervision of the bureaucracy.

patronage – Bureaucratic appointments made on the basis of political considerations. Federal legislation significantly limits such appointments today.

Pendleton Act – A law passed in 1883 which began the process of transferring federal jobs from patronage to the merit system.

Privacy Act – A law passed in 1974 requiring government files about individuals to be kept confidential.

red tape – A bureaucratic pathology in which complex rules and procedures must be followed to get things done.

Schedule C job – A form of patronage under the excepted service for a position of confidential or policy-determining” character below the level of the cabinet and sub cabinet.

Senior Executive Service – A special classification for high-level civil servants created by the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978. Members of this service can be hired, fired, and transferred more easily than ordinary civil servants. They are also eligible for cash bonuses and, if removed, are guaranteed jobs elsewhere in the government. The purpose of the service is to give the president more flexibility in recruiting, assigning, and paying high-level bureaucrats with policy-making responsibility.

spoils system – Another phrase for political patronage, that is, the practice of giving the fruits of a party’s victory, such as jobs and contracts, to loyal members of that party.

trust fund – Money outside the regular government budget. These funds are beyond the control of congressional appropriations committees.

waste – A bureaucratic pathology in which an agency spends more than is necessary to buy some product or service.

Whistleblower Protection Act – A law passed in 1989 which created an Office of Special Counsel to investigate complaints from bureaucrats claiming they were punished after reporting to Congress about waste, fraud, or abuse in their agencies.