Bureaucracy Characteristics of a Bureaucracy A bureaucracy is a system of organization noted for its size and complexity. Everything within a bureaucracy — responsibilities, jobs, and assignments — exists to achieve some goal. Bureaucracies are found at the federal, state, county, and municipal levels of government, and even large private corporations may be bureaucratically organized. People who work for government agencies, from high - level managers and executives to clerical staff, are called bureaucrats. The superintendent of a large urban school district is a bureaucrat, as are the teachers, librarians, nurses, and security guards. The terms bureaucrat and bureaucracy have negative connotations. They bring to mind long, difficult forms; standing in long lines; and encounters with inflexible and unsympathetic clerks. The simplest requests are tangled in red tape, the paperwork that slows down accomplishment of an otherwise simple task. Despite this popular perception, bureaucracy is necessary for big governmental agencies to operate. All bureaucracies share similar characteristics, including specialization, hierarchical organization, and formal rules. In the best circumstances, these characteristics allow a bureaucracy to function smoothly. Specialization Workers in a bureaucracy perform specialized tasks that call for training and expertise. Trained personnel can accomplish their jobs efficiently. The downside of specialization is that bureaucrats often cannot (or refuse to) "work out of class" — that is, take on a task that is outside the scope of their job description. Hierarchical organization The structure of a bureaucracy is called a hierarchy, a succession of tiers from the most menial worker in the organization to the highest executive. Each l evel has clearly defined authority and responsibilities. Formal rules Bureaucracies function under formal rules. These instructions state how all tasks in the organization, or in a particular tier of the hierarchy, are to be performed. The rules are often called standard operating procedures (SOP) and are formalized in procedures manuals. By following the rules, bureaucrats waste no time in making appropriate decisions. There are contradictions in the operation of a bureaucracy, however. The narrow focus on special expertise may blind a bureaucrat to a flaw in the performance of a task. Compounding the problem may be the bureaucrat's inability to recognize the problem if it occurs in an area outside the bureaucrat's expertise. The hierarchical structure also prevents a democratic approach to problem-solving. Lower-level staff find it difficult to question the decisions of supervisors, and executives and managers may be unaware that a problem exists several rungs down the organizational ladder. The Functions of the Federal Bureaucracy The federal bureaucracy performs three primary tasks in government: implementation, administration, and regulation. When Congress passes a law, it sets down guidelines to carry out the new policies. Actually putting these policies into practice is known as implementation. Often, policy directives are not clearly defined, and bureaucrats must interpret the meaning of the law. The bureaucracy often has some flexibility, known as administrative discretion, in actual implementation. The routine of bureaucracy — collecting fees, issuing permits, giving tests, and so on — is the administration of its defined purpose. The federal bureaucracy makes regulations (the rules by which federal and state programs operate) through an administrative process known as rule making. Regulations can be challenged in court, and they are not put into effect until the legal issues are resolved. The Structure of the Federal Bureaucracy The bureaucracy that implements, administers, and regulates federal programs is in the executive branch. However, Congress and the courts have bureaucracies of their own. Each member of Congress, for example, has a staff that manages the office and helps draft legislation. Congressional committees also have their own staffs, as do the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). (Congress created the latter in the 1970s.) These two offices provide in -depth analysis of the operations of federal agencies. The following sections fo cus only on the executive branch bureaucracies. Cabinet departments The cabinet departments, the largest administrative units in the federal bureaucracy, have responsibility for broad areas of government operations such as foreign policy (Department of State) and law enforcement (Department of Justice). The departments are organized hierarchically and include bureaus, divisions, offices, and agencies. The FBI, for example, is a bureau of the Justice Department and has 58 field offices throughout the country. Independent agencies Independent agencies are created by Congress and do not operate within the cabinet structure. The most important agencies include the CIA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the Small Business Administration (SBA). Independent agencies are often created by presidential direction; President John F. Kennedy's Peace Corps is an example. Regulatory commissions are also independent of cabinet departments. Many are run by boards whose members are appointed by the president for limited terms and confirmed by the Senate. They deal with a broad range of issues ranging from product safety to the licensing of nuclear power plants, and include such agencies as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the Federal Reserve Board, and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Government corporations While often run like private businesses, government corporations may receive all or part of their operating capital from appropriations and are run by boards appointed by the president. The TVA, for example, provides electricity, operates recreational facilities, and manages flood control projects in large parts of the southeastern United States. Much of its income comes from the sale of electricity. On the other hand, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) relies heavily on congressional funding to supplement the contributions collected by affiliate radio and television stations during their fund drives. The U.S. Postal Service with almost 800,000 employees is the largest government corporation. Others include the FDIC, the Export-Import Bank, and the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (better known as Amtrak). The Growth of the Federal Bureaucracy The federal bureaucracy began with the three cabinet departments established by George Washington in 1789. Since that time, not only have the number of departments in the cabinet more than tripled, but now there are also myriad agencies, bureaus, government corporations, authorities, and administrations that take care of the government's business. The nature of the civil service For the purposes of this book, the term civil service refers to the civilian employees of the federal government. Wealthy men dominated the bureaucracy through the 1820s. This changed with the election of President Andrew Jackson (1828), who opened government jobs to the common people. He inaugurated the spoils system, under which party loyalty — not experience or talent — became the criterion for a federal job. This was the beginning of patronage, and it continued through the late 19th century. Congress passed the Pendleton Act in 1883, which created a system for hiring federal workers based on qualifications rather than political allegiance; employees were also protected from losing their jobs when the administration changed. To encourage a nonpartisan bureaucracy, the Hatch Act (1939) prohibited federal workers from running for office or actively campaigning for other candidates. Such limitations on civil liberties are considered by many the price that has to be paid for a professional, nonpolitical bureaucracy. The rise of the welfare state During the 1930s, the size of the federal bureaucracy mushroomed due to President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal agencies. Although many were short-lived, others continue to play a role in the lives of Americans: the Social Security Administration (SSA), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). Out of these agencies' programs grew the concept of the welfare state, under which the federal government (rather than individuals, municipalities, or the states) assumes the major responsibility for the well -being of the people. President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society during the 1960s expanded the welfare state with such programs as Medicare, Head Start, the Job Corps, and the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO). As with the New Deal, many Great Society programs became a permanent part of the federal bureaucracy. The idea of the government seeing to the needs of its citizens carried on into the 1970s: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created by the Nixon administration, the new Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the Labor Department transformed the workplace for most Americans, and new cabinet departments were established. National security bureaucracy The federal bureaucracy deals with more than social and economic policies. A large number of agencies are responsible for protecting the American people from both foreign and domestic dangers. The national security bureaucracy includes the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Security Agency (NSA), and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). Responding to late 20th-century public concern about violent crime, drugs, and illegal immigration into the United States, agencies such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) have increased in size. In the wake of events of September 11, the national security bureaucracy was reorganized and expanded. In October 2001, the Office of Homeland Security was established within the Executive Office of the President. Due to pressure from Congress, however, the office became a cabinet department in 2003. The Department of Homeland Security united 22 federal agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Customs Service, and the U.S. Secret Service. Agencies created specifically in response to the terrorist threat were also transferred to the new department; the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is an example. Controlling the Size of Bureaucracy In the 1980s and 1990s, calls for controlling the federal bureaucracy became commonplace. The public saw the bureaucracy as being too large and lacking in accountability. Indeed, the number of civilian employees of the federal government declined slightly over the last 25 years. Bureaucracy can be reduced in a number of ways, although success is often limited. Appointment power and presidential persuasion The president appoints the key members of the federal bureaucracy. If committed to controlling the size of government, the president will select people who are determined to streamline and increase the efficiency of the departments or agencies they lead. A president can give ongoing direction by conferring frequently with cabinet secretaries on policy matters and demonstrating a keen interest in their work. Under such influence, an agency may become more innovative and productiv e. Reorganization Since the 1960s, various government agencies have been moved from one cabinet department to another, and the functions of the departments themselves have been redefined. For example, the former Department of Health, Education, and Welfar e was split into the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education. A serious question remains, however, whether reorganization really improves governmental efficiency. Bureaucracies take on a life of their own and, once created, are difficult to dismantle. President Ronald Reagan failed in his plans to eliminate, or at least downgrade, the departments of Energy and Education, and during his term, the Veterans Administration was added to the cabinet. On the other hand, President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind program expanded the responsibilities of the Department of Education. Privatization and deregulation Some critics of the size of government argue that certain responsibilities should be turned over to private enterprise, which can carry out programs with less cost and more efficiency. The example frequently cited compares Federal Express to the U.S. Postal Service. Privatization has been most successful when undertaken by local government. Deregulation means that the federal government reduces its role and allows an industry greater freedom in how it operates. A reduction in the federal government's responsibility certainly affects the size of the bureaucracy. However, the consequences of deregulation may outweigh the benefits, as seen in the savings and loan scandals of the 1980s following deregulation of the savings industry. The power of the budget Since 1970, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has been charged with preparing the administration's budget. A president can use the OMB to shape agencies and their programs by reducing or enlarging their proposed appropriations. Under Ronald Reagan, major federal regulations were sent to the OMB for review. Congress's "power of the purse" gives it important oversight authority over the federal bureaucracy. Through the appropriations process, Congress can eliminate a program completely by denying it funds, use the threat of funding cutbacks to control it, or pass new laws that limit the scope of an agency's responsibili ties. Sunset laws Many states have adopted sunset laws requiring periodic cost-effectiveness and efficiency reviews of programs and the agencies that implement them. Those that fail to meet the standards are abolished or reorganized. It takes considerable political will to pass such laws, and that hasn't happened at the federal level. Executive branch reviews of the federal bureaucracy Both Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton attempted to come to grips with the federal bureaucracy through close review of its operation. Under Bush, Vice President Dan Quayle headed the Council on Competitiveness to examine all federal regulations. Vice President Al Gore's report on the six-month national performance review requested by President Clinton (titled From Red Tape to Results: Creating a Government That Works Better and Costs Less) called for downsizing some agencies, reorganizing others, and simplifying procedures. Often such proposals run into opposition from the bureaucrats themselves and from the members of Congress who would have to accomplish the proposals' aims. An entrenched bureaucracy has little incentive to decrease its size despite the fact that the public may want reform, and politicians find reducing the size of the federal government an easy campai gn issue. Whether the bureaucracy can be moved in the direction the people or president wants depends to a large degree on its willingness to be moved.