Political Science at Huntingdon College
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PSC 201: American Government | PSC 207 Public Administration; PSC 306 Public Organizations

Lectures on Bureaucracies

revised 17 Aug. 2007, by Jeremy Lewis


  • Bureaucracy, bureaucrats, public officials.
  • Government by "bureau" (office)
  • rich variety of professions: 200 in federal govt alone
  • military & police as well as civilian
  • more exciting than you might think: special forces, SWAT teams, smoke jumpers ...
  • not rubber stamping drones: many lawyers, PhDs, scientists ...
  • highly professionalized, educated
  • Pyramidal hierarchy, now flatter because of improved communications.
  • span of control:
  • 7 people face to face, more by telephone
  • more by carbon copy, then Xerograph and mimeograph
  • 20 people now via email and voice broadcast
  • implementation: putting policy and law into effect.
  • public policy is universal: bureau must reach all Americans
  • goal is compliance with laws
  • making a profit is not a goal
  • serving public and avoiding luxury
  • effectiveness versus efficiency
  • porous walls: media, congress, presidency/governorship, interest groups, citizens
  • Scale of organizations:
  • US 6 M, states extra 12 M personnel
  • DOD 3 M, larger than all private Corps.
  • with size comes complexity
  • large tasks demand large organizations
  • e.g. invading Iraq, 120,000 on ground
  • subduing Iraq, 135,000, + 100,000 contractors.
  • Gen. Shinseki called for 400,000 -- and was retired quickly
  • for each soldier on ground, many in logistical tail
  • But many field offices found to have fewer than 100 people
  • but many educational offices have few support staff -- very lean.
  • US non-profit sector:
  • US largest in world;
  • charities, churches, education, hospitals
  • can make surplus if not profit
  • multiple goals specified in charter
  • overseen by trustees, not board of directors
  • stakeholders but not shareholders
  • Growth with automation, women into the workforce
  • 1890s 90% of office workers male
  • 1910: 90% female
  • social revolution, educated women independent
  • (from lace dresses to serge jackets and plain cuffs.)
  • 1920s: time and motion studies coordinated work of many thousands
  • 2000s: professionals work flexibly, taking responsiblity
  • Theory of bureaucracy (Max Weber)
  • Bureaus replaced courtiers, writs, contracts
  • large offices late C19th
  • Rational, legal authority
  • Permanent authority, permanent careers
  • rules, files, tasks
  • technical expertise
  • secrecy
  • Concentric circles of US govt, listed from bullseye to outer circle:
  • WHS, EOP, Depts, bureaus, agencies, IRAs, Govt. Corps.
  • Pluralism rules here, too: US system is fragmented into subgov'ts.
  • Loose hierarchy in US, subunits independent of main dept
  • WH Staff try to ride herd on bureaus in each administration.
  • Presidency has short time horizon, bureaus long term
  • Nixon expressed the frustration most clearly
  • Occasional, large comprehensive reorganizations:
  • Energy Dept (Carter), Homeland Security (W. Bush).
  • Empirical theory of US bureaus (Heclo, Govt of Strangers):
  • US Reforms:
  • Reinventing Government (1992, Osborne & Gaebler; VP Gore):
  • Entrepreneurial government
  • based on professionals
  • block budgeting, flexibility, local autonomy
  • shed middle management layer
  • implemented by some states and partly by VP Gore
  • but undermined by large budget cuts in 2000s.
  • Next Steps (Mrs. Thatcher, UK, 1980s),
  • Cut main govt depts
  • give functions with clear goals and contracts to agencies
  • accountability: measure and reward performance
  • but: child support agency under Ros Hepplewhite
  • Citizens Charters (Mr. John Major, UK, 1990s)
  • customer relations, Citizens Charters
  • doctors responsible for cost of patient treatments
  • railways rated by punctuality, compensate clients for tardiness
  • Privatization (Mrs. Thatcher, UK, 1980s; Steve Savas, NYC, 1980s)
  • spread from UK to much of developed and ex-communist worlds
  • "sold family silver" : 11% of UK GDP
  • reduced subsidies
  • compete with globalization
  • shed jobs in inefficient steel works, coal mines
  • but trains don't run as often, as safely, or on time
  • booking train journey is complex, needs transfers between railway companies
  • Total Quality Management (Deming, Japan since 1940s, US since 1980s, GE "six sigma"):
  • managing statistics of performance, from manufacturing
  • but excessive paperwork
  • quantitative measures not always available -- or misleading
  • educational reforms (US, 2000s) not quantifiable
  • Planning, Programming, Budgeting Systems (PPBS, McNamara):
  • to manage complex, long-term development programs
  • cost-effective bombing via F-111?
  • but leaves out leadership
  • but puts accountants in charge
  • Panaceas don't work when spread from successful pilot scheme to whole govt

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