Essay About American Government

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“Government bureaucracy is not a neutral machine that simply implements the policy choices made by those who govern. Bureaucrats participate in governing America. The political nature of the bureaucracy, combined with its influence in policy making, necessitates political control of it.” What is a bureaucracy? The word “bureau” is the French word for “office.” Bureaucracy, in turn, means that government is run by rules which are enforced by bureaus (offices or agencies) dedicated to just those rules. The original idea was to establish rules of law instead of arbitrary enforcement, which tended to be corrupt. They exist as both governmental and non-governmental (private) organizations. Bureaucracies have clear hierarchy of authority, employees with specific job titles and descriptions, and formal procedures for hiring, promoting, and firing workers. They are the key link between policy-makers and the beneficiaries of policy decisions. Nature, Structure, and Organization of Bureaucracies Bureaucracies have been around for a long time. They were an essential feature of preindustrial empires such as Rome and dynastic China. In both cases, much of the extension and endurance of these empires can be attributed to the development and use of effective bureaucracies. In these distant realms, bureaucratic tasks and responsibilities were limited in number. Above all, preindustrial governments had to defend their territories from external enemies seeking land and plunder. Then, as now, defense was expensive business, and the maintenance of an empire rested to a considerable degree on the ability of the bureaucracy to collect taxes from the empire’s subjects. In addition to maintaining order and collecting taxes, preindustrial bureaucracies occasionally involved themselves in economic activities, though government involvement in the economy was limited. Complex bureaucratic structures could also be found in the realm of religion. Some of the success of the early Christian church can be attributed to its effective adaptation of Roman organizational principles. Bureaucratic organizational structures have numerous layers of management, cascading down from senior executives to regional managers to departmental managers, all the way down to shift supervisors who work alongside frontline employees. Due to the many layers of management, decision-making authority has to pass through a larger number of layers than with flatter organizations. According to the Weberian model, created by German sociologist Max Weber, a bureaucracy always displays the following characteristics: Hierarchy -- A bureaucracy is set up with clear chains of command so that everyone has a boss. At the top of the organization is a chief who oversees the entire bureaucracy. Power flows downward, Specialization --Bureaucrats specialize in one area of the issue their agency covers. This allows efficiency because the specialist does what he or she knows best, then passes the matter along to another specialist, Division of labor -- Each task is broken down into smaller tasks, and different people work on different parts of the task, and Standard operating procedure (SOP) -Also called formalized rules, SOP informs workers about how to handle tasks and situations. Everybody always follows the same procedures to increase efficiency and predictability so that the organization will produce similar results in similar circumstances. SOP can sometimes make bureaucracy move slowly because new procedures must be developed as circumstances change. In the centuries that followed, bureaucratic organization began to spread from a few political and religious domains into private enterprise as economies became larger and more complex. All modern states have large bureaucratic components. The governmental bureaucracies are usually referred to as the administration, which is usually under the direct supervision of the chief executive, the President in Presidential systems or the Prime Minister in Parliamentary systems. In the United States, the bureaucracy refers to the Executive Branch of Government. The U.S. President is the chief bureaucrat who rules both the civilian and the military agencies and department of the executive branch of government. George Washington formed the federal bureaucracy in the U.S. in 1789, and it began with only three cabinets: State, Treasury, and War. The Federal Bureaucracy The American bureaucracy was built piece by piece over the years in a political system without a strong central government. It does not take the standard pyramidal form found in other nations, and there are few clear lines of control, responsibility, and accountability. Bureaucratic agencies in the United States have two bosses - the president and Congress - who are constantly battling for control. This concept is derived from the separation of powers and checks and balances in our constitutional system. No other democratic nation uses this arrangement. The norm in other nations is a parliamentary system in which legislative and executive powers are combined in a parliamentary body dominated by the cabinet and prime minister. Although the executive branch in the U.S. controls the majority of the federal bureaucracy, the legislative and judiciary branches also have some influence. Through its power of oversight, Congress also monitors the federal bureaucracy to make sure that it acts properly. There are five types of organizations in the federal bureaucracy: 1. Cabinet departments, 2. Independent executive agencies, 3.Independent regulatory agencies, 4. Government corporations, and 5. Presidential commissions. Under the Executive Branch, departments are headed by cabinet-level secretaries appointed by the president and approved by the Senate; they are designed to carry out the most essential government functions. Independent executive agencies are federal agencies that are not included in any of the departments and are not corporations or regulatory commissions. They usually perform a single specialized function. Government corporations are agencies that operate in a market setting and are organized much like a business enterprise. They are usually created to perform some essential economic activity that private investors are unwilling or unable to perform. Independent regulatory commissions are responsible for regulating aspects of the economy where it is judged that the free market does not work properly to protect the public interest. They are independent in the sense that they stand outside the departmental structure and are protected against direct presidential or congressional control. Examples of independent agencies are The Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Election Commission, and the Federal Reserve Board. The vast majority of the departments, agencies, and commissions that make up the federal bureaucracy were created by Congress through legislative acts. The acts were then signed into law by the president who, as the chief executive, was then delegated responsibility for executing the legislation. A few of the agencies and commission were created directly by executive action by reorganizing existing agencies created earlier by Congress. Other examples of the federal bureaucracy are the Department of State, created by Congress in 1789, which is the oldest executive department. The largest executive department today is the Department of Defense, with about 650,000 civilian employees. One of the newest is the Department of Homeland Security, created by Congress in 2002 in the outcome of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. The Food and Drug Administration was created by Congress in 1906 in order to guarantee the purity of our food and medicine. Who runs the Federal Bureaucracy? The president must oversee the executive bureaucracy, which includes what are known as line organizations, or the federal agencies that report directly to the president. The fifteen cabinet departments are line organizations. But managing a bureaucracy this large is too difficult for one person, so there is an agency, created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt—the Executive Office of the President—that assists the president in running the federal bureaucracy. Even though the president is delegated the responsibility of managing the bureaucracy, Congress can influence its operations in several way. Congress can pass new legislation adding details to an agency's mandate. Congress also can influence an agency through the funding process. It can also mobilize political pressure on an agency, and the president's management of it, by holding hearings that direct public attention toward the agency. In addition, through legislative devices such as legislative vetoes, Congress can filter the president's management decisions. Those who work in bureaucracies are called bureaucrats. Bureaucrats are involved in three kinds of major activities: executing the law, making rules, and adjudicating disputes. There are three different personnel systems in the federal bureaucracy: the career civil service, separate merit services in specific agencies, and political appointees. Civil servants are basically representative of the American population. The demographic representativeness of the bureaucracy is greater in the United States than in virtually any other democratic nation. The Bureaucracy and Policymaking Bureaucrats put government policy into practice, and therefore the federal bureaucracy has a large impact on policymaking. In order to get their policies passed, the president and Congress must work with the bureaucracy. However, controlling the bureaucracy can be a difficult task due to its expanding size, civil service laws, policy implementation, and the amount of experience each bureaucrat has. The main causes for a growth in bureaucracy are due in part by an increasing population and growing complexity of society, greater public acceptance of business regulations, and the bureaucracy’s own need to expand its services. There are roughly 2.7 million civilians directly employed by the federal government. The bureaucracy plays a significant role in federal policymaking through iron triangles and issue networks. An iron triangle is an alliance of people from congressional subcommittees—deal with an issue--, executive agencies—enforces law on such issue--, and private interest groups. The members of this triangle work together to create a policy that serves their best interest. An issue network is a group of individuals who support a specific policy. The three parts of the iron triangle are often parts of a single issue network, and their influence parallels that of an iron triangle. How Congress Controls a Bureaucracy Due to the Checks and Balances system listed under the constitution, Congress must oversee bureaucratic activity. Both the Legislative and the judicial branches have the power to control a bureaucracy. An example of how such control takes place is by Congress having majority control over bills and other provisions that come before the House or Senate. Congress can also control how much money goes to different parts of the bureaucracy, and they can control what the bureaucracy is allowed to spend the money on. It legislatively controls agencies' organization, mission, staffing, and goals. It confirms presidential appointments to top posts through the Senate. More importantly, it sets agencies' budgets, and reviews their performance through exercising oversight of agency operations. Reforming the Federal Bureaucracy The expansion of bureaucracies is an ever-growing concern for many people who worry about the size of government. They often propose hiring freezes, restrictions on the formation of new bureaus, and privatization, which is the transfer of many government functions into a private sector. Others argue that the bureaucracy is ineffective and inefficient in carrying out its policies. The Clinton Administration sought to reform the bureaucracy’s “lack of initiative” through Vice-President Al Gore's reinventing government proposal. Nearly every modern president has attempted to reform the bureaucracy. Some recent successful attempts at bureaucratic reform include the following: Sunshine laws, Sunset provisions, Privatization, Increased incentives for efficiency, and Protection of whistleblowers. Conclusion Bureaucracies were not anticipated by the framers. But that doesn't mean it's a threat to democracy. In the early 1900s during the Progressive movement, the Progressives thought that bureaucrats would be rule-driven, to replace corruption; appointed by things like civil service rules to replace political patronage; and dedicated to their bureaucratic mission instead of partisan goals. Nonetheless, a bureaucracy must be controlled by outside sources, such as Congress, in order to avoid an abundance of power of in the executive branch of government.


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