Review: Bureaucracy
Bureaucracy and Bureaucrats
The basic characteristics that define the concept of bureaucracy are found in virtually all organizations, whether public or private, military or religious, for profit or nonprofit. Most organizations are bureaucracies, and most of their employees are bureaucrats.

  1. Why do bureaucracies exist and why are they needed?
    • Bureaucracy is nothing more than a form of organization defined by certain attributes, including a division of labor, allocation of functions, allocation of responsibility, supervision, full-time employment, and worker careers within the organization.
    • Bureaucracy literally means "rule by desks," in other words, a government by clerks.
    • The goals of a bureaucracy are efficiency and productivity, which are gained through specialization and repetition of tasks.
    • Bureaucracies are created in government to carry out a broad range of tasks, to provide necessary services, and to act as experts in particular areas of policy.
    • Despite the general belief that the federal bureaucracy has grown too large and unresponsive, the size of the federal bureaucracy has remained stable over the past 25 years, and has actually declined when compared to the size of the civilian workforce or the increase in federal spending.

  2. What roles do government bureaucrats perform?
    • Bureaucrats communicate with each other, maintain paper for accountability, interpret the law, and implement the objectives of the organization.
    • Congress has delegated a significant amount of authority to the federal bureaucracy by granting agencies the power to draft federal regulations (rule-making) and to adjudicate conflicts over these regulations.

  3. Is the federal bureaucracy representative of the population?
    • Prior to 1883, bureaucrats were political appointees—a result of the spoils system.
    • The assassination of President Garfield in 1881 led to the passage of the Civil Service Act of 1883, which created a merit system for the hiring of federal bureaucrats.
    • Today, the federal bureaucracy more closely reflects the sociological composition of the nation than any other branch of the federal government.

The Organization of the Executive Branch

  1. What are the agencies that make up the executive branch?
    • The federal bureaucracy consists of the Cabinet departments, independent agencies, government corporations, and independent regulatory commissions.
    • The Cabinet departments are headed by a secretary (except the exception of the Department of Justice, which is headed by the attorney general), but it is the bureau level that is responsible for interacting with the public.
    • Independent agencies exist outside the structure of the Cabinet departments and carry out functions that are too costly for the private sector (e.g., NASA).
    • Government corporations (e.g., the U.S. Postal Service and AMTRAK) are designed to run like businesses and hopefully generate a profit.
    • Independent regulatory commissions regulate some aspect of society (e.g., the Federal Communications Commission regulates the broadcast media).

  2. How can one classify these agencies according to their missions?
    • One of the most important activities of the federal bureaucracy is to promote the public welfare (e.g., the Department of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration).
    • Clientele agencies carry out functions that benefit a particular group or clientele (e.g., the Departments of Agriculture, Labor, Education, and Veterans Affairs).
    • Agencies for the control of the Union are of three types: those that control federal revenue (e.g., the Department of Commerce, the Federal Reserve System, and the IRS), those that provide internal national security (e.g., the FBI and the Department of Justice), and those that defend against external threats (e.g., the CIA and the Departments of State and Defense).
    • Regulatory agencies make rules which carry the force of law over people and businesses. Among them are the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
    • Redistributive agencies—those concerned with fiscal, monetary, and welfare policy—transfer money between the public and private spheres and influence spending and investment. The Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve System are fiscal agencies; Social Security, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), and Medicaid are welfare agencies.

Managing the Bureaucracy: Reinvention, Reduction, and Control

  1. Can government be made more responsive and efficient?
    • The 1993 National Performance Review was designed to make the federal government more efficient, accountable, and effective.
    • Vice President Al Gore led in the effort to reinvent government.
    • By the end of 1999, the effort had produced a savings of $136 billion dollars.
    • Congressional oversight has increased over time, making sure that bureaucracies serve their intended functions.