The Bureaucracy

The fact that bureaucracy is necessary is indisputable. Even government on the smallest of scales must administer its programs and implement its policies. The primary dilemma of bureaucracy, however, is an extension of the dilemma of popular governance -- striking the right balance between providing order and protecting liberty. When a bureaucracy is given authority, it is given that authority to establish order, usually in the form of peace, safety, and economic security or stability. When a government bureaucracy exercises authority, the liberty of the people is necessarily diminished. But how much should liberty be diminished and for what purposes or objectives? (Photo at Left: Federal agency buildings in Washington, D.C. Source: Library of Congress.)

A second and related dilemma faced by bureaucracy is the conflict between authority and accountability. If efficiency were the only objective of administration, bureaucracies would be given extensive power and discretion. However, in a political system in which the powers of government are derived from the people, the government must be accountable to the people for how it exercises those powers. On the one hand, then, managerial and administrative effectiveness demands that bureaucracies and bureaucrats be armed with the tools, authority and flexibility they need to accomplish the tasks they are assigned. However, popular governance demands that bureaucracies and bureaucrats be held accountable for their actions. These objectives are not always compatible. Time spent responding to congressional inquiries and investigations or holding public hearings satisfy the demands of accountability, but they directly diminish the capacity of bureaucracies to accomplish their allotted responsibilities.

Reasearch and Study Helps

Think About It

Is the bureaucracy accountable? To whom or what is it accountable?

Which of the bureaucratic reforms discussed in this chapter do you think would lead to the biggest improvement in the administration of governmental programs?

Applying What You've Learned

Visit the web sites of several federal government agencies. What kind of information is made available on these sites? Are there obvious ways for citizens to communicate with bureaucrats via the Internet? If so, investigate on of the programs administered by a federal agency and write to someone at the agency about it.

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