This is one of my essays in the last quarter-final of the political science course.
In government, bureaucracy is a group of administrative nonelected officials who are charged with the implementation of policies. Bureaucrats are civil servants or essential workers in governmental institutions who were given specific tasks and powers within the structure of the executive branch (Krutz, 2021). Unlike in companies for profit, the goal of governmental bureaucracy is to enhance the quality of life in the country and provide public goods and services in areas like foreign affairs, security, taxation, education, or environmental protection (Krutz, 2021). A regular citizen can interact with bureaucrats in governmental offices of all levels, from local City Hall, DMV, and USPS offices (Demsky, 2023) to federal facilities in a military base like Camp Pendleton. One can also reach civil servants by phone, mail, email, and governmental websites. Broadcasting media and official events provide citizens with additional opportunities to understand the position of administrative officials.
Federal government bureaucrats and their agency chiefs answer to the President who is empowered by Article II of the Constitution to execute laws faithfully. The design of bureaucracy is expected to be determined in practice (Krutz, 2021). Congress must regulate commerce and money, establish a post office, and build roads according to Article I. President Jackson replaced the system of relative merit and significantly enlarged the bureaucracy by giving positions to thousands of his party loyalists in the 1820s, which began the reciprocal spoils system with political patronage, exchanging public resources for political support. To reform this system, Congress passed Pendelton Act in the 1880s to return back to a merit system. In the 1910s, President Wilson advocated for efficient administration protected from political manipulation, and President Franklin Roosevelt reorganized it into a series of programs in the 1930s, and President Jonson expanded it even further with his Great Society program in the 1960s (Krutz, 2021).
Bureaucrats enjoy solid job security and a relatively relaxed job environment because today civil service regulates hiring practices to ensure the best people are in the right positions, especially in competitive and senior executive service (Krutz, 2021). Workers cannot be fired for political reasons (Demsky, 2023), they are assured of fair pay through a ranked pay schedule Such a secure position can make them too independent from the agendas of elected leaders and their appointees down the hierarchy (Demsky, 2023) and make the bureaucracy not responsive enough to changes (Krutz, 2021). Federal bureaucracy does not always work efficiently (Demsky, 2023) also because, according to the Weberian model, it has a hierarchical structure and is governed by formal procedures, and is highly specialized (Krutz, 2021), but also rather impersonal and rule-driven, which can lead to “red tape” oppressiveness (Demsky, 2023). According to the old Peter principle, employees advance to the level of respected incompetence in a hierarchy, because skills from the lower level position do not ensure success after a promotion not based on potential. Additionally, acquisitive and monopolistic models describe bureaucrats on higher levels as power-hungry in an environment of limited funding and tend to grow too much, wasting resources (Demsky, 2023), and have no competition which makes them similar to private monopolies. Bureaucracies tend to follow Parkinson's law, according to which the more time is given for task completion, the more time it takes, meaning that working harder does not mean working faster and smarter.
Bureaucracies can be improved by proper congressional oversight, Sunshine laws that make the work of public agencies more transparent like with Freedom of Information Act (1966) or Sunset laws that require Congressional review of programs’ effectiveness and reauthorization, a good policy by new executives, and by whistleblowers who bring the public attention to internal problems (Demsky, 2023). I could offer one experience I had with a bureaucratic agency as an example. During the pandemic, DMV services became particularly inaccessible and I used a private middlemen company. After a couple of years though, they improved their website and I was able to register my car easily and fast. Now, knowing the leading theories and history of governmental institutions, I have a better understanding of their functioning and have more hope for a positive change.
Demsky, J. (2023). “American Institutions and History.” Political Science Course.
Krutz, G. S. (2021). American Government (3rd ed.). OpenStax, Rice University.