Bureaucracy: an Integral Factor of Governmental Maintenance

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Before trying to understand the seemingly complex details of how the government operates, it is a good idea to become familiar with the Constitution. The document itself is over 200 years old but the content has proven timeless. Established in 1787, the Constitution serves as a guide to the structure and functions of the Federal government. The Preamble, although only one sentence, is a powerful statement in that it declares purpose for which the constitution was written, and the principles for which it stands. The body of the Constitution consists of seven articles which lay out the framework for governance, establish Congress, detail the separation of powers, assign responsibilities, define rules, and delegate power. One thing that the Constitution does not define is the Federal Bureaucracy. Brian Cook, Professor of Government, explains how Congress struggled to determine what to do with the verbiage in the Constitution claiming that there will be Executive departments, and whether the executive departments and the Federal Bureaucracy derived from the Constitution or from the laws (Framework for Democracy, 2002). Congress ultimately decided that the executive establishment was a product of the laws and not of the constitution, thus causing some to not accept the bureaucracy as a definition of our government. Regardless if the Bureaucracy is accepted, it remains a prevalent and necessary component of today’s government.

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According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary (2019), bureaucracy is a government characterized by specialization of functions, adherence to fixed rules, and a hierarchy of authority. In other words, it is a systematic way of accomplishing necessary tasks. The bureaucracy at the time of George Washington’s presidency consisted of four men: the secretary of war, the secretary of the treasury, the secretary of state, and the attorney general. The size of the bureaucracy is relative to the size of the job, so as government tasks grew in number and complexity, so did the bureaucracy. The Jackson administration started what is known as a spoils system, also known as political patronage in that he provided friends, family, and supporters with civil servant jobs to as a thank you for their patronage. Industrialization created economic and population growth resulting in a need to expand the bureaucracy further. Civil servant jobs continued to be filled through the patronage system until 1883 when Congress passed the Civil Service Reform Act creating a merit-based system for acquiring civil servants. The end of the nineteenth century marked the beginning of the Progressive Era, a period marked by boundless social activism and political change. Woodrow Wilson was a known supporter and leader of the progressive movement, and among the first to recognize a need for public administration discipline.

In his 1887 essay, ‘‘The Study of Administration,’’ Wilson claimed that in order to promote efficiency, public administrators should not engage in the enterprise of politics (Riccucci, 2010). The bureaucracy is the parent organization of public administration as a practice, and the practice of public administration is the parent of public administration as a field of study. both the implementation of public policy in government bureaucracies and the academic study that prepares civil servants for work in those organizations (Openstax, 2018).

The increase in the amount of public service programs throughout the twentieth century coupled with the damage that political patronage caused to the bureaucratic framework, ballooned the importance of understanding public administration. Once the seed was planted, it was not long before philosophers, scholars, and deep thinkers started formulating theories and publishing their ideas. Some of the first and most influential writings came from Frederick Taylor, Luther Gulick, and Lyndall Urwick. Determined to increase efficiency and performance in the workplace, Frederick Taylor studied and analyzed the productivity of his employees and published his findings in a book titled The Principles of Scientific Management. Taylor endorsed “Science” as the best approach to determining optimal job performance, and that the workers performing those jobs, did them accordingly (Riccucci, page 7 2010). Another scientific based theory emerged in a report from Gulick and Urwick. The two men served as members of a presidential committee, so their focus was on the role of government in the public realm. These early writings helped develop and conceptualize ideas on public administration.

Woodrow Wilson’s 1887 writing is often linked to the onset of public administration as a discipline; however, the beginning of public administration as a field of study is more accurately attributed to the publication of the first edition of Herbert Simon’s book, Administrative Behavior. Simon claimed the best way to study administrative behavior is through research guided experiments to determine what types of administrative behaviors are ideal. He asserted that empirical analysis would yield morally neutral, judgment free facts about public administration that could be studied and modified. A different perspective offered by political scientist Dwight Waldo was in stark contrast to the Simon’s theory. He claimed that Simon’s scientific based theory could not apply to public administration studies because questions of value are common to administration and value cannot be proven by science. He also suggested that public administration studies should be realistic, based on experience. Waldo’s theory placed administration at the core of modern government, and democracy at the core of public administration.

As it stands today, public administration is a major piece of the bureaucratic framework in the United States. The makeup of the federal bureaucracy is quite complex as it involves thousands of agencies, administrations, corporations, and commissions created to carry out responsibilities delegated by Congress. Although there is overlap, the bureaucracy is generally divided into five administrative organizations: Cabinet department, independent agencies, regulatory agencies, government corporations, and presidential commissions.

The Cabinet departments fall under the executive branch which functions to implement and carry out laws. The President nominates one individual to run each department. Once the individual is approved by the Senate, they are given the title of “Secretary” except for the head of the Justice Department, who carries the title of Attorney General. Each Secretary acts as a presidential adviser, while managing the policies and operations of the departments in which they head. Independent agencies are created to by Congress when the topic of concern surpasses ordinary legislation. They are created through congressional statutes that must be supported by both political parties. Like Cabinet departments, independent agencies fall under the executive branch; however, they are not represented in the Cabinet, they are managed by more than one individual, and they have the ability to make decisions without consulting the President.

Regulatory agencies are established by a legislative act to create and enforce standards in a specific industry or area of the economy. Regulation of certain programs, services, and consumer goods is necessary to protect citizens of the United States. The president is responsible for appointing many of the regulatory agency leaders, however, they function without presidential oversight. Like regulatory agencies, presidential commissions have some regulatory duties, but are vastly different in their makeup and overall objective. Presidential commissions can be temporary or permanent and serve to advise, regulate, or gather intelligence depending on their intended function. There is a lot of flexibility within the structure of commissions. Some may be composed full time members who receive compensation while others may have part time members with little or no compensation. Some are headed by a board or a group of individuals, while others may only have one leader. Government Corporations are the last type of organization in the bureaucracy. Corporations are established by Congress to carry out business aspects of certain programs that typically provide a public service. They are federally funded agencies; however, they have potential of creating their own revenue. They function like private corporations in that a board of directors governs some corporations while individuals govern others.

In 1787 delegates from 12 of the 13 states gathered to make amendments to the Articles of confederation, but instead of making the amendments the men decided to completely rewrite the framework that would form a new government. July of 1789 the 9th state ratified the United States Constitution and it was put into effect on March 4, 1789. Since the time that the constitution was ratified, America has grown by thirty-seven states and increased in population by at least three hundred million people. Without the federal bureaucracy it would be difficult if not impossible for government to maintain the integrity of the Constitution for a such a large population. Its system of carefully organized agencies allows the government to allocate resources and establish organizations to accomplish necessary tasks. It may seem as though there are too many government offices or too many regulations, but the number is relevant to the size if the population. 

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