The Bureaucracy

Bureaucracy – a large, complex organization composed of appointed officials

Unique Characteristics of US

Political authority over bureaucracy is shared among several institutions.

Parliament has little influence over UK bureaucracy

Both President and Congress have control in US

Every senior appointed official has at least two masters: one in the executive branch and one in the legislative

The ramifications of federalism: most federal agencies share responsibilities with state and local ones

Some deal directly (FBI, USPS, IRS), most give money to local governments

This gives local governments much control

Most of this overlap from these departments is due to a liberal interpretation of the commerce clause

Court challenges and public opinion

Litigation is very common in US.

Virtually all major bureaucratic policies are likely to be challenged in the courts

While US is not very socialized, it does regulate the private sector to a degree uncommon in most nations


The Bureaucracy over time


Constitution didn’t have very many provisions; 1789, madison created Department of State

President could, alone, remove his subordinates: reason was that this was the only way he could realistically control them

Still, president doesn’t have all the power

1816-1861, number of employees increased 8x

result of growth from increased demands on traditional functions

Civil war caused the need of many new bureaucrats

Industrial growth placed strain on state resources, hence fed picked up the slack.

200,000 added from 1861 to 1901

Pension office, DoAgriculture, DoLabor, DoCommerce, National bureau of standards,


Interstate Commerce Commission (1887) was the first to regulate – people still liked the (kick-ass) idea of laissez-faire

Even though congress technically regulated trade, it couldn’t do everything

Everything grew during WWI, WWII, etc.


Tough for presidents to appease most people

Throughout most of 19th and 20th centuries was dominant, hence it controlled appointments

Since congress was representationally thinking, we ended up with spoils system

A New Role

Today, bureaucracy is mostly the result of Great Depression and WWII

Government was now expected to play an active role in dealing with economic and social problems.

WWII saw heavy dependence and use on Federal income Taxes


Bureaucratic Behavior

Even though number of actual governmental workers hasn’t increased much, the number of those who work indirectly has increased.

Power depends on the extent to which appointed authorities have discretionary authorities

Factors that explain behavior

    1. The manner in which they are recruited and rewarded [personal loyalties develop after being hired]
    2. The personal attributes, such as socio-economic backgrounds and their political attitudes [only for those who have discretionary authority]
    3. The nature of their jobs – the more mission-oriented an agency, the more likely it is that it will be activist.
    4. The constraints that outside forces – political superiors, legislators, interest groups, journalists

Recruitment and Retention

Competitive service: individuals are required to pass written Office Of Personal test, or meet certain written requirements

Only 56% are part of it today, because system is so decentralized

FAA, Postal Service, CIA, FBI have agency-specific criteria

Has become much more diverse occupationally, scientists, lawyers, etc.

Patronage availability: Statue, Schedule-C jobs [with a policy-determining character]

Pendleton Act (1883) began end of spoils system

Buddy system / Name-request job: one filled by a person who the agency has already identified

Way of hiring those who are known to the organization to be competent

Buddy System: creating a job, and designing the qualifications for a certain person

Firing a bureaucrat

Elaborate steps are required

Thus, no one is fired without much effort

.01% of workers were fired last year

personal attributes

Those in activist agencies have more liberal views than those in traditional ones

General policy views reflect the type of government work they do


Typical government bureau cannot hire, fire, build, or sell without going through procedures set down in laws.

Administrative procedure act: agency must give notice, solicit feedback, hold hearings before adopting a new rule or policy.

Freedom of information act: agency must allow all citizens to inspect its records

National enviornmental policy act: agencies must issue environmental impact statements

Privacy act: keep citizen’s records confidential

Open meeting law: all parts of all meetings must be open ot the public

Biggest constraint: congress rarely gives any single job to any single agency

Effects of constraints:

Government is slow

Government is inconsistent

It’s easier to block than to take action

Low-ranking employees are reluctant to make decisions on their own

Citizens complain of red tape

The Iron Triangle

The relationship between an agency, a congressional committee, and an interest group.

Are less common today.


Reductions in budgets are difficult to pass (the bureaucrats will be called to testify about what the budget should be – they won’t want to eliminate their own jobs)

The interest groups which come to the defense of whatever agency make it very hard to eliminate.

The members of congress themselves – they don’t want to give up power by eliminating those things over which they have power.

Congressional Oversight

Control methods

No agency can exist without congressional creation

No money can be spent without authorization from congress (authorization legislation)

No money can be spent unless it has also been appropriated (appropriation legislation)

Amount is often less than the amount authorized

Loss of power for the apporpriations committees

Via Trust funds

Shifts to annual authorizations

Attempts to keep spending down


Bureaucratic Pathologies

Red tape: too many rules

Conflict: agencies work at cross purposes

Duplication: two governmental agencies due the same thing

Imperialism: agencies grow without limit or care

Waste: spending more than necessary

The power of the bureaucracy

Why do we have so much law but congress has passed so little? Because congress passes laws like "part of education shall help oversee and ensure quality education for all citizens of the united states and shall write reasonable rules and regulations to make this happen"

Other part of Wickard v. Filburn

Quotas were actually written up by the department of Agriculture

Filburn was partly arguing that you cannot have an agency of the executive essentially making a law

Supreme Court said that there is so much that needs to be done, that congress cannot possibly do it all, therefore it may give the authority to the executive branch



Eric Jonas's 1998-1999 AP American Government Notes
This material copyright Eric Jonas, 1999.
These notes have been taken from American Government, 7th edition, by Wilson and DiIulio, and from in-class lecture by Mr. Greg Sandmeyer at Timberline High School.