Characteristics of the Federal Bureaucracy

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Characteristics of the Federal Bureaucracy
Bureaucratic power tends to take on a life of its own. During the nineteenth century. the government and a relatively limited role in everyday life. In the 19~Os, however, the scope of government was extended greatly during the Great Depression to deal with labor management relations, public welfare, and the regulation of the securities markets. With dramatic increases in technology and increasing demands from the public that the government "do something" about problems facing society, the government has grown still more in recent decades. Today. even with slight reductions in size. the federal bureaucracy employs more than two million people in civilian positions. Much of the actual functioning of the government is carried on by its bureaucracy. As strange as it may seem. even the president, the White House stall'. and cabinet officials have difficulty establishing control over the bureaucracy (Dye and Zeigler. 2008). Many employees in the federal bureaucracy have seen a number of presidents "come and go." For example. when President Clinton promised to make his administration "look like America," analysts watched to see who would be appointed to his cabinet but did not watch for changes in the permanent government in Washington. made up of top-tier civil service bureaucrats who have built a major power base shows characteristics of the "typical" federal civilian employee. The governmental bureaucracy has been able to perpetuate itself and expand because many of its employees have highly specialized knowledge and skills and cannot be replaced easily by "outsiders," In addition. as the United States has grown in size and complexity. public policy is increasingly made by bureaucrats rather than by elected officials. For example. offices and agencies have been established to create rules. policies. and procedures for dealing with complex issues such as nuclear power. environmental protection. and drug safety; bureaucracies announce an estimated twenty rules or regulations for every one law passed by Congress (Dye and Zeigler. 2(08). Typically. these bureaucracies receive little. if any. direction from Congress or the president. The actions of these agencies are subject to challenge in the courts. but most agencies still operate in a highly autonomous manner. The executive branch is also highly bureaucratized. Cabinet level secretaries. who are appointed by the president and approved by the Senate. head fifteen departments that carry out governmental functions. Like all other areas of governmental bureaucracy. these departments have grown in number and size over the years. Adding to the layers of bureaucracy are the bureaus and agencies that are subdivisions within cabinet departments. as well as government corporations-e-agendas organized like private companies and operating in a market setting. For example. the U.S. Postal Service competes with United Parcel Service. FedEx.DHL. and other delivery services (Greenberg and Page. 2002).

The federal budget is the central ingredient in the bureaucracy. Preparing the annual federal budget is a major undertaking for the president and the Office of Management and Budget. one of the most important agencies in Washington. Getting the budget approved by Congress is an even more monumental task; however. as Dye and Ziegler (2008) point out. even with the highly publicized wrangling over the budget by the president and Congress. the final congressional appropriations are usually within 2-3 percent of the budget originally proposed by the president. What role do special interest groups play in influencing the federal bureaucracy? Interest groups have an effect on the budgets received by various agencies and departments. Even though the president has budgetary authority over the bureaucracy. any agency that feels it did not get its "fair share" can raise a public outcry by contacting friendly interest groups and congressional subcommittees. This outcry may force the president to restore funding to the agency or prod Congress to appropriate money not requested by the president, who then may cooperate to avoid a confrontation. Another way in which special interest groups exert a powerful influence on the bureaucracy is the iron triangle of power-a three-way arrangement in which a private interest group (usually a corporation), a congressional committee or subcommittee, and a bureaucratic agency make the final decision on a poetical issue that is to be decided by that agency. illustrates the alliance among the Defense Department (Pentagon). private military (or defense) contractors, and members of Congress. We will now examine this relationship more closely