American Bureaucracy Research Paper

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I. Introduction

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II. Bureaucratic and Governmental Theory

A. What Is Bureaucracy?

B. The Development of American Bureaucracy and Scholarship

C. The Organization of the Modern Bureaucracy

D. The Critique

III. Applications and Empirical Evidence

IV. Policy Implications of Bureaucracy

V. Future Directions

VI. Conclusion

I. Introduction

This research paper summarizes the essential aspects of American bureaucracy for political science students during the 21st century. The four parts of this research paper are as follows: the theoretical bases, applications and empirical evidence, policy implications of bureaucracy, and continuing issues into the future as they relate to American bureaucracy. American bureaucracy refers to the administrative apparatus that accomplishes the tasks of government not otherwise conducted by the legislative or judicial branches. Other terms for bureaucracy include the administrative state, public administration, or public management. By examining the positive aspects of a well-functioning bureaucracy and acknowledging the myriad of critiques, this research paper demonstrates the important role of American bureaucracy in governance and policy. The inherent tension regarding bureaucratic performance that appears repeatedly in the history of American bureaucracy is that when functioning properly, bureaucracy is designed to operate without being noticed.

II. Bureaucratic and Governmental Theory

A. What Is Bureaucracy?

When political scientists speak of bureaucracy, they typically mean two things. First, they acknowledge the depth and breadth of bureaucracy, much as the initial definition presented. Bureaucracy here is seen as an administrative apparatus that fulfills the duties of the executive branch of a government. It is the accomplishing arm of government. The second approach to bureaucracy taken by political science is a narrower, organizational definition that is often linked to a particular agency and is associated with Max Weber (1978).

Weber (1978) described an ideal type of bureaucracy and stressed its rational form and organization. In his definition, a bureaucracy is any organization, public or private in nature, that contains seven key attributes. First, the organization must have jurisdiction and be made up of positions that contain detailed responsibilities and scope of authority. Second, there is a hierarchy or a system of supervision and subordination for individuals. Third, there needs to be unity of command and an understanding that although officials do not own the resources, they need to perform their functions so that they are still held accountable for their use. Fourth, bureaucratic organizations must operate on the basis of written documents. Fifth, managers and workers are trained and skilled in the job to assure efficiency and productivity. Sixth, there must be consistent application of rules. Finally, personnel are hired, and work assignments are based on competence and experience. Weber’s theory presented an ideal type of bureaucracy for creating the best-running organizations; it was a normative, but not necessarily a descriptive, theory. Weber’s bureaucracy emphasized control, efficiency, and productivity. Hierarchical and bureaucratic structures are now the pervasive form found in business, religious, military, and civilian government organizations today.

The attributes presented in early bureaucracy theory are considered generic organizations—applicable to any form, whether public or private. Although the command and control idea of bureaucracy still exists, more decision-making authority may be more dispersed as policy is achieved in decentralized manners. Ultimately, the structure and functioning of a bureaucracy is related to the organizational and political environment of government.

B. The Development of American Bureaucracy and Scholarship

Bureaucracy existed long before the founding of America. For example, bureaucracy was present in ancient Egypt and Sumeria, and Confucius was a Chinese bureaucrat. American bureaucracy preceded the founding; for example, Benjamin Franklin developed the post office. Many of the founders were involved in both the politics and the administration of the colonies. The history of bureaucratic theory in America has changed over time. Different principles and themes have emerged and dominated different eras. During the founding years of American government, the bureaucratic theory was government by gentlemen, or aristocratic elites. There was genuine interaction between the executive and legislative branches, and the size of government was small. For example, George Washington had more servants working at Mt. Vernon during his first presidential term than America had bureaucrats.

The terms administration and bureaucracy are absent from the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution, but early congressional acts formed cabinet departments, appointed officials, and considered administration, or as John Rohr (1986) has argued, administration was an early consideration of the founders. As America grew and changed, the bureaucratic theory of federal operations transformed from an elite corps to a populist notion that anyone should be able to work in the government. Under Andrew Jackson’s administration, the spoils system was a theory and practice of patronage appointments as rewards for politics. After the Civil War, the transition from the spoils system to a professional, educated merit system of civil service became the hallmark of the modern administrative state.

There were a number of reform efforts at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century that contributed to the development of a professional bureaucracy. The Progressive Era municipal reforms emphasized changing the government structure and operations that would lead to good government; they emphasized improved practices, with professionally appointed administrators, separate from political influence. Scholars were advancing the profession of public administration. In particular, Frank Goodnow’s (1900) textbook argued that the government process is complex and that politics is the expression of the will of the state, whereas administration is the execution of that will. Later, this distinction was called the politics–administration dichotomy, where politicians would make policy, and administrators, as neutral experts, would carry out the policy in an efficient, effective, and economical way. Many of the early textbooks on federal, state, and municipal government emphasized the bureaucratic structures and techniques to accomplish goals. In addition to municipal reforms, another hallmark of the early 20th century was the creation of the merit system for public employees.

The professionalization of bureaucracy was seen as promoting businesslike practices. Woodrow Wilson (1887) is now recognized for his essay in which he stated, “It was harder to run a constitution than to frame one” (p. 200). He argued that a businesslike foundation was needed for government. Wilson admired the British system and was troubled by public influence on elections and government policy; he argued for an expert bureaucracy and a strong executive. Wilson’s early writings on bureaucracy became widely known when reprinted in 1941.

During the era of the New Deal, the increased regulation established the national administrative apparatus that we know today. With its expansion in size and scope, there were a number of studies of the federal government to reform the bureaucracy. The Brownlow Commission in 1937 and the Brookings Report in 1938 presented competing views of administration. The Brownlow report argued for an all-powerful executive; the Brookings report argued for more legislative control. Through the passage of the Congressional Reauthorization Act of 1945 and the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946, Congress exerted more control over the bureaucracy. One distinctive theory of this era, Luther Gulick and Lyndall Urwick’s (1937) evaluation of the responsibilities of the executive, could be summarized in the acronym of POSDCORB (planning, organizing, staffing, directing, coordinating, reporting, and budgeting). Gulick and Urwick asserted these roles could be delegated by the executive and achieved by top-level bureaucratic leaders.

In the late 1940s, three theorists widened the discussion of bureaucracy from neutral experts to how it affected policy. The New Deal brought the enormous growth of government that continued during World War II. Paul Appleby (1945) noted big democracy combined both policy and administration to achieve public goals; however, contentious questions began to arise regarding the appropriate role of each as agencies—staffed with unelected individuals— began fully gaining power. But the key figure of this era who accepted that administration is politics is Dwight Waldo (1948), whose Administrative State makes the case that the purpose of government is to provide for the good life. Bureaucracy can prevent citizens from experiencing life in Hobbes’s nasty, brutish, and short state of nature where the fear of death drives all human motivation. Waldo asserted contemporary citizens do not need to be concerned with the Lockean state of nature where fiduciary trust reigns supreme. In developing a political theory, Waldo shows exactly how politics and administration are interconnected, and this makes him the most influential bureaucracy scholar of the second half of the 20th century.

During the late 1940s through the 1960s, there were a number of alternate theories presented about accomplishing government activities and about the effect of hierarchy and bureaucratic organizations on individual achievement. Herbert Simon (1947) asserted that administrative behavior was productive but it required a type of administrative man loyal to the organization and that his administrative behavior should act in a highly rational manner. In other academic fields, such as psychology and business, theories were expanding views of bureaucratic organizational forms. Abraham Maslow’s (1954) hierarchy of needs through which individuals navigate was applied by Douglas McGregor (1960) to two types of organizations and how they treated individuals. According to McGregor’s Theory X, management views workers as lazy individuals that need to be micromanaged, and McGregor advocated developing a more flexible Theory Y where hard-working, dedicated individuals were respected by management. Other scholars considered aspects of decision making and group dynamics on governance. Irving Janis (1982) was particularly influential in his description of individuals, finding they will seek unanimity in groups, even if such groupthink has the potential to result in catastrophic government actions.

A final bureaucratic theory of decision making was built on the incremental nature of government. Charles Lindblom (1968) advanced the argument that change in bureaucracy was by increments, not by rational comprehensive studies. Lindblom’s suggested bureaucracy worked through evolution, not revolution. Rather than taking big bites, administrators ultimately opt to nibble as they muddle through the decision-making process. Policy change occurs slowly over time. Aaron Wildavsky (1964) applied instrumentalism to budgeting and showed how the best predictor of an agency’s next budget was its current budget. These studies help show the importance of policy when examining budgets, bureaucrats, and Congress. Wildavsky also emphasized the obligation of bureaucrats to be proactive and bring up ideas; they must “speak truth to power.”

In the last two decades of the 20th century, two competing theories were advanced. First, many were arguing that bureaucracy was undemocratic and it needed to develop better approaches for citizen participation. Second, the new public management theory was advanced in hopes of achieving bureaucratic reform. This theory asserted that good managers were being hampered by excessive rules and red tape. The alternative proposed was for a more innovative, creative, and liberated management to focus on achieving goals rather than being concerned with structure, process, and constraints of political accountability. As the 21st century began, the bureaucracy was criticized for being uncontrollable and overcontrolled.

C. The Organization of the Modern Bureaucracy

All levels of government have bureaucratic forms that use agency and departmental structures. This discussion, like many others on American bureaucracy, uses the example of the federal government. Federal bureaucracy is established through the Constitution by Congress enacting legislation that empowers administrative action, while imposing responsibilities and limits. The most visible arm of the federal bureaucracy is composed of cabinet departments, which report directly to the president. Examples include the Department of Education, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Justice. These cabinet departments are made up of a variety of agencies that often may have multiple—even conflicting—responsibilities. Consider the Department of the Interior, which contains agencies that deal with both national parks and land management: Parks are to be protected for all citizens to enjoy while land management leases federal property for mining, logging, or ranching purposes. Besides the cabinet departments, a number of other federal agencies independently report to the president—such as the Social Security Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Office of Management and Budget.

The federal government contains numerous independent regulatory boards and commissions. These are formed through legislation, but these groups do not regularly report to the president. Examples include the Federal Elections Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Federal Communications Commission. They have the authority to perform tasks such as setting rates and mandating licensing and registration requirements. The justification for this independence is that boards need to be separated from political control and day-to-day decisions to be effective. These boards are governed by commissioners appointed by the president, with the consent of Congress. The final type of federal bureaucratic organization is the government corporation, which is chartered by Congress. As corporations, they are expected to operate as business enterprises and raise enough revenue to cover their own expenses—though often they do not. Prominent examples include the Tennessee Valley Authority and the United States Postal Service.

Moving from the federal level to the state and local levels, many similarities, along with a few important differences, deserve mention. Although it is not practical in this research paper to discuss the intricacies of every state and local government, it is possible to point to some common elements and some of the most noticeable differences. Many states have cabinet-level departments that are responsible for actions within each state. Unlike at the federal level, some of the departments are constitutional bodies that have separately elected officials and thus do not report to the governor. For example, positions such as secretary of state, state treasurer, and state auditor are elected in many states rather than being appointed by the chief executive. It ultimately depends on state constitutions and statutes to determine the structure and functions of bureaucracy. The tasks performed by state bureaucrats in many ways mirror the goals of their federal counterparts: They handle issues such as public health and safety, maintaining justice, running elections, and managing finance and budgets.

At the local level, bureaucracy is defined by flatter hierarchies that are affected by the type of government, the population and area to be governed, and the requirements of state constitutions and statutes. Counties, cities, towns, and special districts are all local governments, and the type of bureaucracy will be much different for the City of Chicago than a small rural town in Idaho. Local-level bureaucrats focus on issues such as fire protection, police protection, zoning, and handling issues related to public health. Often, specialized services are provided by special districts devoted to topics such as water treatment or education rather than government corporations or independent agencies. The scholarly literature about the local bureaucrat has considered particular aspects of governing such as mandates from other governments or citizen involvement.

D. The Critique

Michel Crozier (1964) said bureaucratic organizations are those that demonstrate the slowness, the ponderousness, the routine, the complication of procedures, and the maladapted responses of the agency to its general purpose. Bureaucracy, Crozier noted, is not well liked by the American public. Politicians run entire campaigns against the bureaucracy to win votes. Presidents belittle the role of bureaucrats, such as Ronald Reagan saying that “government is the problem, not part of the solution.” Popular entertainment, the media, and textbooks have all reflected negative views of civil servants over the last four decades. These often represent government bureaucracy as all-powerful and out of control.

Bureaucracy is often associated with negative phrases like red tape, inefficient, duplicative, big, unresponsive, inhuman, inflexible, machinelike, costly, out of touch, rule bound, lazy, power hungry, uncontrollable, monolithic, secretive, wasteful, and unrepresentative. There is a long tradition of highlighting the negative aspects of bureaucracy. Ralph Hummel (1977) points out that the bureaucratic form leads to problems and that bureaucrats are often misunderstood. In considering how bureaucracy shapes the public, Hummel presents pathologies of the bureaucratic structure, including that bureaucracy deals with cases, not people, and dehumanizes its clientele. Bureaucrats worry about control and efficiency rather than justice, freedom, and salvation. Instead of speaking our language, headless, soulless bureaucrats create their own secret languages while working for control institutions, rather than service institutions.

What these critiques overlook is the essential role that bureaucracy plays in the proper functioning of government. As the executive branch, bureaucracy serves as the executor of the decisions of legislative bodies. It implements policy and takes it from paper to action. The American tradition neglects such positive factors and instead encourages public and political skepticism about what, how, and why bureaucracy does things. Bureaucrats are accused of poor performance and self-interest. Citizens and academics criticize their personalities, communication skills, and timeliness in response. Normal bureaucratic accomplishments and functions are boring for media reports; consequently, the stories presented on national and local news accentuate the negative to highlight bureaucratic ineptitude and waste. The general distrust about the nature of government ends up as bashing the bureaucracy.

There are many more scholars that have studied bureaucratic problems than the few individuals that have a more positive outlook. Charles Goodsell’s (1983) polemic focused on the personal experience of an individual’s encounter with a bureaucratic agency and found that bureaucracy performs better than it is given credit for; individuals were pleased with their experience with public servants. Richard Stillman (1996) carefully explains away the 10 biggest myths about bureaucracy. He makes the case that bureaucracy is not the problem in American government, bureaucracy is not overwhelmingly large or monolithic, bureaucrats are not all alike, bureaucrats do not remain in their positions forever, bureaucracy is not entirely concentrated at the federal level, bureaucracy does not operate in secret, and bureaucracy is not wasteful, all-powerful, or nothing more than red tape.

III. Applications and Empirical Evidence

Studies of the bureaucratic institutions of government use many different research approaches, including empirical positivist studies, qualitative studies, and in-depth field studies. The methods used often include a combination of approaches or the application of research triangulation. Often with studies of the bureaucracy, the evidence gathered relates to the type of inquiry. Studies of management and performance, use of resources and budgets, and program evaluation involve positivist and empirical approaches. Studies of policy adoption, implementation, administrative politics, and interactions between branches may use qualitative or mixed techniques. Surveys of public opinion about government activities and bureaucracy are also common.

The application of theory through systematic, data-driven studies was first adopted for management and practical purposes. Frederick Taylor’s (1911) scientific management theory encouraged systematic study of how work is conducted to improve operations. It is fair to say that scientific management, with its emphasis on efficiency and management, was a worldwide movement that had enormous influence on business practices and government policy. The scientific management approach relies on gathering information, using time and motion studies, evaluating tasks, and evaluating quantitative data. Managers use these studies to determine the best techniques and the appropriate division of work. These studies were often agency based; sometimes they dealt with policy considerations.

Many early works discussing bureaucracy were normative based. The use of a hierarchical structure, with clearly defined roles and responsibilities, was seen not just as a descriptive theory, but also as a practical application to exert control over workers in the bureaucracy. The approach to bureaucratic studies during the first half of the twentieth century was applied research used to improve practices. The resulting studies were descriptive studies and theories of organization. By the 1940s, the terms shifted from bureaucratic or organizational studies to administrative studies. These studies tended to be in substantive policy areas, but some also occurred within a theory and knowledge-building framework, toward a more academic and systematic type of policy studies.

Herbert Simon (1947) presented a pointed critique of these bureaucracy studies that, in his view, provided contradictory proverbs in their approach rather than a valid analytical administrative theory. Simon presents an alternative to develop a systematic scientific administrative theory. Simon’s rational comprehensive approach to the study of administration is similar to positivist research. The first requirement was consistent and discrete definitions of concepts that enable studies of administrative situations to be comparable. Second, scholars needed to use rigorous social scientific methods. Simon proposed highly rigorous studies to test and develop theory including the following: falsifiable hypotheses, discrete and measurable criteria, common administrative situations, and replicable studies. Simon argued for experimental designs where possible. Simon’s ideal was to develop a theory of administration built on exhaustive and rigorous study, but he recognized that there were limits on the time, money, and ability to conduct comprehensive studies. As a result, many studies consider satisfactory and sufficient, even if limited, information. In developing and conducting satisfactory and sufficient information, the researchers “satisfice.”

In 1951, the policy sciences approach from Daniel Lerner and Harold Lasswell (1951) shifted the study of bureaucracy from organization and management to considering government policy. They asserted there was a scientific discipline in the study of public policy. Policy sciences was proposed as a better way to study and understand public policy, and the bureaucracy was seen as the setting or a part of the inquiry rather than bureaucracy being the primary focus. The policy sciences and administrative theory share an approach that uses the scientific method, hypothesis testing, and choice of problems that are scientifically tractable, and they also preferred applying statistical analysis and mathematical modeling.

In recent years, the move from understanding a particular substantive area of bureaucracy has been supplemented with a call for developing a better theory for understanding bureaucracy’s role in the policy process. Again, one aspect of this policy inquiry is the study of how bureaucracy affects policy. Paul Sabatier (1999) argues that multiple method frameworks that consider quantitative data, longer time frames, and criteria across levels of government or comparative between countries must be developed to build better theory.

There are a number of studies that test theories of bureaucracy. The use of a hierarchical structure, with clearly defined roles and responsibilities, was seen not just as a descriptive theory, but also as a practical application to control the structure, functions, and activities of the bureaucracy. Other applications of theory are related to practical considerations of describing and evaluating bureaucratic practices. A common inquiry using empirical evidence is through survey and field study research. Numerous internal surveys of bureaucrats have been conducted. These consider what bureaucrats do; their opinions about their tasks, responsibilities, and processes; and their view of individual or agency accomplishments. Some surveys focus on particular levels of the organizations; others may be cross-sectional in comparing agency types across states or nations. It is more common to find single-shot surveys than the use of longitudinal studies. Other studies may inquire as to the power, process, implementation, or relationships within agencies as these relate to policy areas. Common methods for these research questions are in-depth field studies and observations.

Some studies will look at how a particular program is operating. This is particularly true of the implementation studies. In the 1970s, two studies, by Jeffrey Pressman and Aaron Wildavsky (1973) and Eugene Bardach (1977), considered how bureaucracy takes legislation and implements policy, how policy changes, and what problems occur. These implementation studies tend to be case studies and often consider both policy purposes and bureaucratic processes. Another area of inquiry about bureaucratic achievement is in the area of evaluation studies. Again, the focus is often on one program, but the design often includes quantitative data analysis to address questions that compare policy purposes to policy goals. Evaluation studies also consider the effects of policy on the targeted population to develop better policy tools for bureaucrats to affect behavior.

Inquiries about the structure and functions of various agencies, including how they define their policy responsibilities, may be conducted using documentary analysis. Numerous approaches and sources for documentary analysis may begin with the policy delegation through statutes, considering internal memoranda and documents, or through analysis of rule-making or other standard operating procedures. At the federal level, the government manual provides brief summaries of the department’s policy role and responsibilities that demonstrate hierarchical structure and designated functions. There is equivalent information available now on government websites for many state agencies.

The use of systematic empirical studies to understand and improve the performance of bureaucracy has an established history. The initial purposes of these studies were for management improvement rather than academic inquiry. These systematic evidence-based studies emphasized the use of data about bureaucracy as a way to understand and control administrative practices. Many of these studies and methods were related to government reform efforts, and the approaches were applied to governments at all levels. From Taylor’s (1911) scientific management to the development of program budgeting, the linking of systematic gathering and analysis of performance has had practical use and has expanded knowledge. The most recent systematic performance legislation, the Government Performance and Reporting Act of 1993, requires agencies to gather performance information and report it to both the executive and to Congress. It serves both management and democratic informational purposes.

Empirical studies are also conducted on primary and secondary source documents. Bureaucracy produces many reports as part of normal operations; these are primary source documents, some of which are published, while many others can be gathered through freedom of information applications. There are often evaluations of agencies and programs conducted by an internal auditing agency, include the Government Accountability Office and the agency’s inspector general. Other sources of information about bureaucracy include lawsuits and judicial decrees. These numerous documentary sources provide data for evaluation of bureaucracy and policy and often the research design for secondary sources uses qualitative rather than quantitative methods of analysis.

An essential concern about bureaucracy is the influence bureaucracy has on policy making and how unelected bureaucrats use their power. The relationship among bureaucrat, legislature, and interest group has been studied through case studies and field research. Because of the type of interactions, the use of observations, interviews, and documentary analysis is seen as a worthwhile approach to understanding these relationships. The power and influence of bureaucracy on the general public or affected groups is also a topic of note. It is common to study public opinion about bureaucrats, especially on citizen interactions with bureaucracy.

IV. Policy Implications of Bureaucracy

The role of the large unelected institution, the bureaucracy, and its effects on policy has been a persistent concern. Common questions investigate how bureaucrats affect agenda setting, policy selection, decision making, and implementation. In the formal view of government, the three constitutional roles of the judiciary, the executive, and the legislature are defined, but the influence of the bureaucratic institutions of big government on policy is not part of the founding framework. Some have called bureaucracy the fourth branch. Policy concerns relating to the form and structure of bureaucracy often consider how bureaucracy is accountable to other government institutions and the public interest. The effect of bureaucracy on the public interest involves both democratic and political accountability. With the enormous size of the administrative state, there are concerns at the federal level about the ability of the president to control the bureaucracy. There are also questions about whether the bureaucracy is faithful to legislative intent in implementing policy decisions.

The concerns about accountability raise questions about delegation: whether the legislature provides narrow mandates or broad discretionary power to agencies to carry out policy. Theodore Lowi (1969) recommends that the legislature provide narrow and strict mandates as a way to limit the authority of bureaucrats; this is called a top-down approach. Other policy scholars discuss different approaches to delegation based on the type of policy consideration. Anne Schneider and Helen Ingraham (1997) assert that broad administrative discretion is a beneficial, pragmatic approach to achieve policy because it provides necessary flexibility, respects agency expertise, and includes the public. This also reflects a bottom-up approach where granting broad policy discretion includes the public in policy development and implementation.

The problem of delegation and agency accountability is sometimes considered in relation to the principal–agent theory adapted from the fields of economics and law. Where a principal, here a government, relies on agents or employees to carry out responsibilities, there are problems of information asymmetry, agent self-interest, monitoring activity, and moral hazard. The agent has more access to information than the principal, and this asymmetry affects the principal’s ability to decide and achieve policy. The problem of self-interest asserts the agent seeks his own interest, which leads to inefficiencies, fraud, or waste. The moral-hazard problem addresses making poor economic decisions because someone else bears the costs. The need to monitor by the principal has to balance costs and control. These concerns with principal and agent relate to how policy is achieved.

David Weimer and Aidan Vining (2005) summarize how policy is evaluated in a political-economy framework. Economic theory asserts there are limits to government intervention (referred to as government failures) in a free market. This government-failure framework posits reasons why policy cannot be achieved because of the limits of government in influencing political or economic behavior to achieve public purposes. The four categories of problems are direct democracy, representative government, bureaucratic supply, and decentralization. The first two categories relate to government structure in a constitutional democracy; the final two categories specifically relate to bureaucracy and policy. The bureaucratic supply problems include the principal–agent problem, problems of measurement or the need to impute value to output, the problem of limited competition in valuing government services provision, and the inflexibility of civil services provisions. In short, bureaucratic failure is equated to a type of market failure. Decentralization problems also relate to bureaucracy in the areas of inconsistent implementation and fiscal externalities.

An established area of policy inquiry focuses on bureaucratic culture and autonomy. The delegation of authority and the inevitable specialization encourages agencies to act as a closed group of experts. In addition, the dominant hierarchical structure and development of agency cultures may work to perpetuate agency goals as opposed to policy goals of elected officials. The different types of roles and responsibilities given to agencies in carrying out policy, from enforcement to rule making, have produced a powerful administrative state that needs political controls. That is, with the expansion of the administrative state in the first half of the 20th century, the inconsistent and confusing administrative procedures to develop and enforce statutes and regulations became an issue for administrators and lawyers. The adoption of the Administrative Procedure Act led to uniform standards in rule making, imposed due process requirements in agency hearings or adjudication, and required more transparency through public notices and open meetings. There were numerous overhead legislative actions during the second half of the 20th century to make the bureaucracy subject to and responsive to legislative supervision. David Rosenbloom (2000) asserts this legislative-centered focus made the administrative state more amenable to the constitutional representation of the public interest.

Individuals and groups affected by bureaucratic practices can make policy challenges and accomplish substantial policy change through the use of litigation. Through the use of class-action and public-interest litigation, policies in the area of racial discrimination, institutionalization of the mentally ill, prison practices, and other issues were successfully changed. Not only was the bureaucracy subject to review and supervision by the executive and legislature, but bureaucratic actions were considered in the courts with far-reaching influence on policy and bureaucratic practices.

The ability of the agencies to influence policies, agenda setting, decision making, and implementation has been an area of attention. How individual agencies interact with legislative oversight committees and public interest groups has been considered. The particular power relationships in these three groups combine to affect or control policy in a way that is often called an iron triangle or a subgovernment. A somewhat broader concept of the power, expertise, and influence of legislative experts, public interest groups, bureaucrats, and the public is called a policy subsystem or policy network, and this concept is used to consider changes in substantive areas of policy. Iron triangle, or subgovernment, analysis is focused on how elite groups affect policy; the subsystem or network approach incorporates a pluralist framework that sees bureaucracy as one of a number of actors in the policy cycle, particularly on agenda setting or decision making. These analyses about policy actors and their influence include concerns about the independence, control, and responsiveness of the bureaucracy.

One last area of consideration of the interaction of policy and bureaucracy is in implementation. There are concerns about policy slippage between the adoption of policy and the process of implementation. Some suggest this is a normal result from the broad, general, and optimistic policy preferences, and with the institutional limits of time, resources, and attention, the changes from policy aspirations and bureaucratic development of procedures and processes to implement the policy are part of a normal process. Some scholars have suggested better policy design, and others have critiqued the idea of automatic implementation of policy. Others have noted that there are progressions of policy, and often there are contradictions and paradoxes throughout the policy process that become evident during implementation and evaluation.

V. Future Directions

There are important questions for political scientists to investigate regarding bureaucracy and how this institution accomplishes government policy and goals. This section considers four broad research areas: institutional organization and reform; government performance and productivity; political responsiveness and bureaucratic power; and democratic values, public service, theory building, and empirical studies.

The theoretical foundations of bureaucratic study emphasize the structure, functions, and control of the administrative state. Questions regarding this important institution and how it can be reformed are enduring. How do we develop better bureaucracies? What can be done to improve or supplant the rigid hierarchical structures? In service delivery, can networks, collaborative efforts, or coproduction produce good results? The use of contracting out and collaborative efforts has been advocated as a flexible and effective way, an alternative to bureaucratic production, to provide government services. However, empirical studies that demonstrate the achievement of this theory have been lacking. Donald Kettl and Brinton Milward (1996) have criticized this approach as unproven, and they call it the hollow state. The collaborative efforts between governments and nonprofits in achieving public policy is another area for inquiry: Does it work?

The dominant administrative values of neutral and efficient delivery of services have their roots in the Progressive Era. However, questions endure regarding government performance and productivity. Are these the appropriate goals to pursue? Do they supplant or support political goals and the public interest? Does the fiscal and budgetary pressure on bureaucrats to be productive raise different types of questions about political responsiveness? Does the emphasis on productivity and achieving goals lead to behaviors that encourage creativity and risks?

There are a number of enduring questions about political responsiveness and bureaucratic power. Are bureaucrats responsive to the policy goals delegated to them by the legislature? Are they creatures of the executive? Do the courts serve as controls on bureaucratic excess, or do they reinforce bureaucratic power? The concerns about a vast institution that is not elected and has only indirect political controls are raised in many instances. Does the power of the bureaucracy respond to constitutional designs of checks and balances? Are there better models of policy implementation and evaluation that will increase political responsiveness? Are bureaucrats more responsive to interest groups or personal interest than to policymakers?

The democratic values of citizen participation and the public interest are an important part of the American polity. According to William Gormley and Stephen Balla (2004), both scholars and the public believe bureaucracy to be undemocratic. How do individuals interact with the bureaucracy, and how does this affect public perceptions of government? The role of bureaucrats in teaching, encouraging, and engaging the public in policy development and service delivery is proposed by Cheryl King and Camilla Stivers (1998). Does this approach promote or impede the general public interest? These scholars raise the question of how to make bureaucracy more democratic. One additional consideration about democracy and the public interest is the composition of the civil service. Many suggest that there should be a representative bureaucracy that can promote and respect the diverse populations and provide better service. This raises questions of how to evaluate this assertion.

Finally, bureaucracy is often seen as a profession where theory building and other studies predominately are concerned with practical results. How can political scientists develop rigorous theories and use sophisticated methods to predict and understand governance? Are there ways to develop longitudinal studies, rather than single-shot or case studies? How can studies of public perceptions about bureaucracy lead to better government? What ways are there to further advance to the challenge of Simon’s administrative theory or Lerner and Lowell’s policy sciences?

VI. Conclusion

Bureaucracy is the institution of government that accomplishes government policies and goals that are established by the legislature and the executive. The theories of bureaucracy have changed as this nation has developed, but the dominant form of hierarchical control remains in use. The application of bureaucratic form and structure are part of the theories that seek to control the scope and complexity of the administrative state. The instrumental and practical concerns about structure, control, and efficiency of the bureaucracy often compete with important democratic values of political responsiveness, policy influence, and public interest. There are important questions that 21st-century scholars need to continue to study to understand how bureaucracy does or does not achieve political goals.


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