Political Science at Huntingdon College
Huntingdon College | Political Science | Courses | SPS |
PSC 308: Public Organizations and Policy

Students' Outlines Of Nivola & Rosenbloom (eds)

Classic Readings in American Politics, 3/e.

Section VIII: Bureaucracy
Compiled by Jeremy Lewis, last revised 11 Mar. '15.
33: James Q. Wilson, "Bureaucracy Problem"
34: Herbert Kaufman, "Red Tape"

33: James Q. Wilson, "Bureaucracy Problem"
by Amy C. West, 2002

-federal bureaucracy used to only be a concern for the right, but now is a major concern for the left, and center (everyone)
-growing federal power means increased discretion in appointive officials which can neither be anticipated or controlled
-liberals have resolved most problems in favor of enhancing federal power
-local and state bureaucrats can often be anticipated because they can be controlled by business and others (opposite from federal power)
-federal bureaucrats are not easily bought off because the are responsible for national power center and a single President
-agreement between the right and left that there is a bureaucracy problem accounts to the fact that non bureaucratic solutions command support from both groups
-common element is desire to scuttle the social workers and public welfare
-not one bureaucracy problem, several
 -one: accountability or control
 -two: equity
 -three: efficiency
 -fourth: responsiveness
 -fifth: fiscal integrity
-to face issue must recognize, that there are inherent limits to what can be accomplished by large hierarchical organizations
-if enough people don’t like something it becomes a problem, if intellects agree it becomes a crisis
-some problems cannot be solved, and some government functions cannot in principle be done well
-the answer is not finding good people
-one reason being lack of experience , general ideas rarely tell one what to do tomorrow
-another reason is good people are in short supply
-everywhere except government, scarcity of talent is accepted as a fact of life
-if the bureaucracy problem is a major reason why so many programs are in trouble it is also a reason why the problem itself cannot be solved but it can be mitigated
-a program with clear objectives clearly stated is a program with a fighting chance of coping with each of the many aspects of the bureaucracy problem
-with clear objectives we know what we are giving up in those cases
-the rejoinder to this argument is that there are many government functions which by their nature can never have clear objectives
-both Congress and the White House seem eager to do something about he bureaucracy problem
-copying with the bureaucracy problem is inseparable from rethinking the objectives of the programs in question
-to think clearly about the goals is tough for a system that is held together by compromise, ambiguity, and contradiction, most reasonable people would prefer the system to clarity


Herbert Kaufman, “Red Tape”
By: Walt Cobb, spring 2015; another is below
Hebert Kaufman- Leading scholar of public organization for more than three decades
- He taught political science at Yale
- For many years he was a senior fellow in the government studies program at the Brookings Institution
- Term was coined due to the 19th century practice of binding documents with red ribbons
- Currently used as a generic reference for cumbersome and time consuming administrative processes
- Used to protect people from each other and alleviate distress as well as promote due process, administrative effectiveness, and open government
- Every restraint and requirement originates in somebody’s demand for it
- We have tried to infuse two properties into our government; Compassion and Representativeness
- If the government wasn’t concerned with our safety and well being there would be fewer government constraints and complicated procedures in our society
- One example is the market place: for a long time buyers and sellers were left to negotiate each transaction between themselves with very little government interference.
- The government took no responsibility for the buyers well-being
- People were getting cheated and deceived and began to demand protection
- The marketplace worked too imperfectly to shield people from harm by careless producers and distributers
- The government stepped in to intercede in more buyer-seller relations to protect the people
- Government assures purity of food, safety of drugs, prevents false and misleading advertising, and has attempted to reduce dangers from hazardous substances and products of all kinds.
- Distrust in Government is a deeply ingrained tradition in America
- Growth came about in response to demands for protection and assistance from the people themselves
- Americans assert a need to be protected from the government as well as by it
- They also recognize a need to protect it from those who would despoil it
- Representatives of the government are safeguards against such abuses
- In order to keep every citizen fairly represented and to stop decisions from being skewed by small but powerful elitist interest groups; Procedural complications, substantive constraints and paperwork must be implemented
- Preservation of due process obliges officials to give people who are affected by governmental actions a fair chance to get their views on official decisions registered so that their views are not overlooked or arbitrarily overridden by those in power
- Administrative Procedure Act (1946): a legally binding codification and summary of procedural fairness requirements governing administrative agencies
- Includes a section on public information commanding agencies to “separately state and currently publish in the Federal Register” descriptions of the central field organizations including any delegations of authority
- People are no longer kept in the dark about who is responsible for decisions about rules, orders, and licenses 

34: Herbert Kaufman, "Red Tape" 
by Alexander Zachos  Spring 2005

In the U.S., Public agencies are criticized for their “red tape”.  Red tape is a general term used
to describe the time consuming administrative processes that are the result of the complexities of
the system and our nation.

Much of the “red tape” is the result of our nation’s preoccupation with a compassionate and
representative government.

How Compassion spawns red tape

If our government was not required to care about us, then there would be far less constraints
and complicated procedures in public organizations.

Protecting People from Each Other

In the past, the relations between buyers and sellers were left up to the two involved parties. 
The government had little or nothing to do with any transaction.

The people eventually demanded that the government intervene for 3 main reasons.

-The marketplace did not protect consumers from harm by venal or careless producers

-the amount of knowledge necessary to keep up with product safety became too much for most
individuals to handle

-Social values changed in industrial society and gave birth to new philosophies

Some examples of services the government has tried to ensure include:

  • -to assure the purity of food and the safety of drugs
  • -prevent false advertising and reduce dangers from hazardous pollutants
Examples of Agencies created for this purpose:
  • Food and Drug Administration
  • Federal Trade Commission
  • Department of Agriculture
-The great amount of governmental requirements (red tape) is due largely to it’s concern for
protecting some people from being hurt by other people.

Alleviating Distress
The government has gotten involved with helping people from being hurt by forces that they
have no control over, such as:

-Assistance to veterans, the aged, blind, the poor etc.

-Victims of natural disasters such as floods, storms, and earthquakes.

Forestalling Systemic Disruptions
Breakdowns in transportation, energy, or agriculture will happen.  Much government “red tape”
regulations are trying to protect people from the suffering that would follow the breakdown of
one of these subsystems.

Representativeness and its consequences

Distrust of government has been deeply rooted in American tradition since its founding.  The
people fear tyranny, thus they demand to be represented well.  In an effort to represent the
people, a trail of paperwork and constraints follow this effort.

Due process
Preservation of due process ensures that officials don’t arbitrarily overlook the opinions of those
affected by governmental action.

This fairness adds to the practices and constraints that we call “red tape”.  Example:

The Administrative Procedure Act (1946)- law that describes procedural fairness in governing 
administrative agencies.

Kaufman says that maybe a society that was less concerned about individual rights might have
simpler and faster administrative procedures than are typical in the U.S.

Representation, rationality, and Administrative Effectiveness
Rationality is important for a public organization to run effectively.  In the U.S system there are
2 main hindrances:
   1.                  Lack of comprehensiveness in weighing alternatives can reduce rationality.

   2.                  Lack of consistency can reduce rationality, Ex.: If procedures are not consistent, the
         work of one agency may end up negating the labors of another.

Even though there are methods of increasing group participation and effectiveness.  Should
these methods work, there is still a major cost in “red tape”.

Keeping Government Public
It is main goal to do everything possible to prevent the government from becoming an instrument
of the private sector.

Corruption of officials occurs with the involvement of large sums of money. 

It is said that a private redirection of government occurs when rich people and organizations
use their wealth to influence policy and officeholders.

Taxation with Representation

Although taxation without representation was a founding principle of our government, there
would perhaps be less red tape in an autocratic rather than democratic system.  This
representation makes the tax system complicated and inefficient.

-Due to the desire to represent everyone, many tax laws end up as “Christmas-tree” laws, or
laws that contain a gift for everyone.

Diversity, Distrust, and Democracy
Americans believe strongly in a compassionate and representative government.  This contributes
greatly to the enormous numbers of requirements and prohibitions that complicate our political

Were we a less diverse society, the paperwork and constraints might be less.

If we had more trust in our officials, we would not put so many constraints their discretion.

If our system were less democratic, the government would not respond nearly as often to the
public claims for protection and assistance.

Thus, it is diversity, distrust, and democracy that cause these complications and constraints
known as “red tape”, and ultimately make our system largely ineffective.