THEORIES OF BUREAUCRACY
"Coordination is the philosopher's stone of public management" (Harold Seidman)
Bureaucracy is an important macrolevel unit of analysis, but not so all-important that every theory of bureaucracy is a theory of public administration or a theory about society as a whole. Opinions vary over the importance as well as definition of bureaucracy. Hill (1991) boils down the scientific debate into three opinions: (1) those who say bureaucracies are powerful and inevitably dominate the policy process; (2) those who say bureaucracies are in-between powerful and powerless and best described as pathological entities which only have instrumental influence on policy; and (3) those who say bureaucracies may be significant, but are not all that powerful as actors in the political process. Clearly, a diversity of opinion exists, and the literature is full of value-laden (normative) as well as value-neutral (empirical) conceptualizations.
|Bureaucracies have been blamed for everything from "passing the buck" to the downfall of civilization. Some common stereotypes include being wasteful, inefficient, overly large, and a threat to liberty. Bureaucracies are often criticized for being "out of touch" and exhibiting the qualities of sluggishness, complacency, and arrogance. Everybody seems quick to point the finger of blame at bureaucracy when things go wrong, including media, politicians, special interests, academicians, and average citizens. Working in a bureaucracy is supposed to be thankless, boring, mindless, stupid work. It's not that they don't return your calls (that would be pre-bureaucratic behavior, or laziness), it's just that bureaucracies can only handle routine matters, and if something is out of the ordinary, it's "I have to check with my supervisor." Bureaucracy is the whipping boy for when people are really referring to organizations which don't work, don't plan, and don't innovate.||
Not all countries define their bureaucracy in the way Americans do, and further, as Riggs (1993) points out, virtually all countries in the world have more powerful bureaucracies than the U.S. Perhaps the reason why so many people over-inflate the importance of the concept is because the stakes are high. After all, a bureaucracy's greatest strength lies in its ability to coordinate complex operations, and coordination is what people expect out of their government. Public administration involves the coordination of resources to get complex tasks done, so it is easy to conflate the concepts of bureaucracy with public administration buzzwords like "administrative state" and "administrative systems" as Waldo (1948) and others (Jreisat 2002) have done. The most reasonable stance toward a meaningful conceptualization of bureaucracy seems to be toward adoption of opinion #2 (above), and Riggs (1994a) calls this the "semipowered" institutional approach. Another referent for something which is considered "in-between powerful and powerless" is middle-range theory.
Middle-range theories, or theories of the middle range, are quite common in many fields of study. The idea of creating middle-range theories (MRT) is usually attributed to the sociologist Robert Merton (1949; 1967), but there were others, going back to Plato, Bacon, J.S. Mill, and T.H. Marshall, who advocated such things as middle axioms, middle principles, limited theories, and stepping stones in the middle distance. According to Merton (1967), a middle range theory consists of "a set of assumptions from which specific hypotheses are logically derived and subsequently confirmed by empirical research." Such theories, according to Merton (1967), are intended to be building blocks of larger, more "grand" theories, but several theories in social science have never made it past the middle range. Morrow and Muchinsky (1980) list the examples of dissonance theory in psychology, collective behavior theory in sociology, reference group theory in social psychology, and oligarchy theory in political science as middle-range theories. Bureaucracy theory deserves to be added to this list of middle range theories because they only explain a small part of the puzzle.
The term "bureaucracy" is derived from a French word negatively referencing all the scribes, clerks, functionaries, and other officials who serve as the "middle men" in government. The French saw bureaucracy as a dangerous "fifth branch of government" much like the dangerous "fourth branch" or famous Fourth Estate (as the news media or press are sometimes called). The bureaucracy is not called the Fifth Estate, which refers to organized crime (and the First Estate to clergy, the Second Estate to nobility, and the Third Estate to middle class). From the beginning, the concept of bureaucracy has always had negative connotations. For example, Harold Laski, in the 1930 Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, defined bureaucracy as "a system of government the control of which is so completely in the hands of officials that their power jeopardizes the liberties of ordinary citizens; the characteristics of which include a passion for routine in administration, the sacrifice of flexibility to rule, delay in the making of decisions, and a refusal to embark upon experiment; in extreme cases resembling a hereditary caste manipulating the government to its own advantage" (Laski 1930:70). Also, the Austrian economist and libertarian Ludwig von Mises said: "The worst law is better than bureaucratic tyranny" (Mises 1944:76). Even the renowned sociologist Max Weber (1947:328) -- often championed as the father of bureaucracy -- defined the term as referring to an organization of administrative hierarchy characterized by loyalty to the office, a highly specialized division of labor, and impersonal relationships based on prestige, power, and control. Weber's influence, of course, was greater than this, and people often cite Weber (1947) for his other insights into bureaucracy as a master trend (Gerth & Mills 1976). With the exception of a small sociological tradition led by Selznick (1943) and foreshadowed by Barnard (1938) which holds that expanding bureaucracy assists with leadership development, most scholarly inquiry since the 1940s has been directed toward finding ways to downsize, reform, reorganize, reengineer, or manage the bureaucracy in order to make it more accountable, more humane, or more responsive. The Marxist critique of bureaucracy has always been in this direction, toward the lowering of government salaries to that of the average worker (as Marx himself wanted) and taking bureaucrats "down a peg" from their status of unearned privilege and self-esteem. Marxists also argue that what bureaucrats really do is manage class conflict, and additionally, this is important -- they do not directly produce any good or service for society (O'Connor 1973). On the issue of whether bureaucracies are as worthless as Marxists say, suffice it to say that opinions vary.
THE DIFFICULTIES OF DEFINING BUREAUCRACY
To denigrate bureaucracy is not to define it. One needs a good definition if a concept is to be a unit of comparison. The task is not easy. There are many difficulties. The simplest way to measure a bureaucracy would be to count the number of government workers. However, this simple way is the most hazardous way since it just might include elected officials when a bureaucracy should only properly include "appointed" workers. There is also the need to screen out managerial and clerical officials too high and too low in hierarchies (the supervisory/non-supervisory problem). A person too high up is a policy maker, not a bureaucrat; and a person too low doesn't possess the requisite discretion to make decisions of enough prestige or power. A bureaucrat, by definition, is someone who has decision making authority, but who regularly defers in their decision making to rule or precedent. In addition, some government employees do produce a direct service to society -- police patrolling a beat or soldiers carrying a rifle -- even though such actors are NOT normally thought of as part of the bureaucracy, at least in the American conception, but sometimes there are good reasons for including the police, the armed forces, corporations, hospitals, courts, ministries, schools, and universities as part of the bureaucracy (although this is highly debatable). In countries where the military does not subordinate to civilian leadership, there is certainly good reason for including the armed forces as part of the bureaucracy. In some places, bureaucrats have seized power in a coup d'etat led by military officers (Riggs 1994b). When you think about it, both military officers and civil servants share the same grievances and depend heavily on the same source of politicoeconomic considerations for their livelihood.
The typical "count" of bureaucrats in any government is usually no more than 2% of the workforce (Heady 2001), although in some countries like Norway, Denmark, and Sweden, the count can run higher simply because a third of the population works for the government (as opposed to the standard U.S. practice of keeping government employment around 15%). The reason for being conservative when counting the membership of a bureaucracy is that scholars are normally only interested in the "middle-top" levels of management. These levels form the relatively permanent "action group" of the "higher civil service" (Marx 1961). Those at the very top have short tenures of office, and those far down the middle never have a chance to influence policy. Those at the top are either temporary political appointees who hide behind executive privilege or semi-temporary political appointees who practice their own "spin control" and hence serve as "frontbench" players. Those at the bottom, ordinary levels ought to possess competence, experience, and expertise to a high degree, and so must be "multifunctional," meaning that they don't just do their job well, but articulate and aggregate interests (as the voice for public interest groups). It is customary in public administration to say that three (3) levels describe the ranks from which a bureaucracy is drawn, as follows:
top civil service -- a small group of "frontbench" executives, ministers, secretaries, and deputies
higher civil service -- a large "elite" and educated group of permanent, high-ranking employees
ordinary civil service -- a large body of "knowledgeable" permanent, public employees
In a way, it's wrong to paintbrush a whole sector as part of the bureaucracy or not because it's the mindset not the organization, which matters. The two are sometimes conflated, as for example when Marxists count up the number of relatively "non-productive" employees. Marxist-oriented scholars have always claimed to be able to detect non-productivity, but their methodology is evasive (O'Connor 1973). Identifying such employees might be easy in a market or business environment where a human capital perspective would look at things like salaries in relation to overhead, but it is extraordinarily difficult in a public sector environment to identify who's productive or not. Nonetheless, bureaucrats are kind of like capitalists in that they accumulate things (added value or self-valorizing labor), and contractors, of course, are expected to be both capitalists and bureaucrats. In regard to the mindset needed for becoming a bureaucrat, a person can be a bureaucrat and may not know it. Few bureaucrats self-identify because there are so many negative connotations associated with the term. At best, Marxist perspectives only add a little to our knowledge about bureaucracies. Experience and expertise are what matter, and these qualities are only thinly captured by a performance or accountability approach.
BUREAUCRATIC STABILITY AND TRANSITION
Bureaucrats survive by keeping their head down and keeping quiet. Their castle is their desk, and they take things like their parking space quite seriously. They never admit they have sufficient space, money, or staff, and are always looking to expand the "fiefdom" of their jurisdiction. Survival comes before growth, however. As government organizations mature, dedication to the performance of mission tends to be replaced by dedication to the survival of the official and agency. Customer service tends to be replaced by avoidance of conflict with those who can make trouble for the agency. Holding meetings becomes more important than any problem which is supposed to be dealt with in meetings. What is being described here as "bureaucratic survival" is the notion of an "entrenched bureaucracy" -- one which is impervious to reform, cutback, or accountability. It is impervious to most types of reform, such as sunset legislation, Congressional de-appropriations, deregulation, privatization, and reorganization. The only thing that works is reappointment, which only takes place during a Presidential leadership transition.
The politics of bureaucratic transition is an under-studied topic. Groups like the Brookings Institution are one of the few who research it. Almost every country in the world allows four to ten weeks (from election to inauguration) for its President-elect to implement a transition, and in the United States, support agencies like the GSA (General Services Administration) are in place to assist with orientation, travel, housing, and such, for new appointees. Presidential privilege allows the appointment of key members of a bureaucracy, and for the most part, personnel appointments determine policy. That is to say "personnel is policy" because a President-elect only appoints people who will support his/her policies and re-appoint or dismiss those who would undermine them. A President-elect also tries to seize the initiative by making sure that the quality of personnel managers at the second and third tier levels of the "career bureaucracy" matches his/her policy agenda. It is at these levels of government that the crucial details of policy will be formulated and executed. Careerists at these levels are almost never promoted to top, non-careerist (or "trusted lieutenant") spots, and there is good reason for this -- such deeply entrenched civil service employees have been politically neutral for so long that it would be wrong to force them into a politically-charged, policy-making environment. It will be enough to get them to go along with the implementation of policy changes.
An outgoing administration will try to "burrow" or convert its non-career appointees into career civil service positions. They will use every loophole in civil service law and all sorts of "expedited hiring" processes to entrench their people into secure permanent civil service positions. An incoming administration should do everything in their power to review these conversions for their legality and then quickly rectify any career conversion actions that were inappropriate. The burrowing of previous administration personnel constitutes an abuse of the career civil service for partisan political purposes. During administrative transitions in the United States, the Plum Book is a guide to the 9000+ positions that must be filled, and many of those are exempt from civil service rules on competitive appointment. Qualifying for appointment on the basis of competitiveness is not the same as qualifying on the basis of merit, but it is a type of merit-based system, which is too complex a topic to go into here. What will have to suffice is the following short foray into the history of how at least two important figures (Weber and Taylor) dealt with the problem of getting good people into the right jobs.
THE WEBERIAN APPROACH TO BUREAUCRACY
| Max Weber (1864-1920): the founding father of sociology, father of bureaucracy,
and pioneer of scientific management did not have his works translated into
English until long after his death. In
organizational science, Weber is known for advocating a Western civilization
approach to rationality
(the logical synchronizing of means and ends) which elevates it to a mode
of thought appropriate for all spheres of action, e.g., education,
science, art, law, economy. Weber defended Western-style capitalism as the
only politicoeconomic institution with rational laws, logical rules,
bounded government, and trained administration. Weber not only enumerated
the characteristics of bureaucracy but also analyzed the three forms of
authority in organizations:
1. Charismatic -- the appeal to emotions and affections; charisma
2. Traditional - the sanctification of tradition or habit
3. Rational-legal - the valuation of something because it embodies an ultimate value; a disinterested, professional attitude of valuation toward a thing for its own sake
Weber's (1947) paradigmatic studies on the subject are nothing less than brilliant, and according to his analysis, a proper bureaucracy (bureaucracy in its purest form), from a purely technical point of view, all other things being equal, always displays the characteristics of rational legal authority, as follows:
a continuous organization of official functions with rule boundaries
specialization via specified spheres of competence in a division of labor
a clearly defined organization of offices based on the principle of hierarchy
rules which require qualifications and training to understand and administer
impersonality via equality of treatment for all clients of the organization
appointment and promotion on the basis of merit and not bias or favor
payment on the basis of rank accompanied by pension rights
separation of public and private life in terms of interests and finances
strict, systematic discipline and control of day-to-day work
decisions, acts, and rules formulated and recorded in writing
One is likely to see the above list in various forms, but be advised that when trying to simplify or abbreviate Weber, there is dangerous risk of oversimplification in making Weber seem cold and heartless to such a degree that an efficiently-run Nazi death camp might appear admirable. Weber had a strong belief in the use of logic and reason to improve the human condition (he favored casuistry and typology), and his purpose was clearly to develop an "ideal-type" model that was just that -- ideal -- a standard by which to judge and evaluate all other forms of organization. His model was an abstraction weaving an exaggeration of certain elements of reality into a logically precise conception based on a combination of inductive and deductive analysis, and it has heuristic value even if it does not match any existing instances of the phenomenon in reality (Arora 1972). Shorthand versions of Weber's principles abound; e.g., from Harmon and Mayer (1986):
Division of labor -- the principle of fixed delegation of authority and responsibility inside the organization
Structure based on hierarchy -- a pyramid of control like in the military where higher-level officials supervise lower-level officials inside the organization
Administration based upon information -- about employees, processes, records, reports, data, etc.
which presupposes expert training -- all employees hired by the
organization must demonstrate
their qualifications for the job through education, training, or experience
Employees are full-time career workers -- this fosters increased organizational control over employees
Operation of the organization is based upon rigid and impersonal rules of behavior -- this is usually taken to mean that bureaucracy is dehumanized;
and from Heady (2001) who says the pivotal elements of Weber's conception are as follows:
Hierarchy -- the element which most closely applies rationality to administrative tasks; firmly-graded levels of superordination and subordination in which higher offices supervise lower offices
Differentiation or Specialization -- differentiation is what sociologists mean by roles; specialization is the result of division of labor; both are necessary for cooperation to accomplish complex goals in organizations
Qualification or Competence -- neither is the same as professionalism; competence means being a "fit" for the job and qualification means some degree of preparation and education.
Weber's characteristics of a bureaucracy are so pure that few organizations or associations would ever come close to complete realization of all of them. Nonetheless, they stand as the list of things which everyone agrees provides the highest degree of efficiency from among the choices for type of organizational structure (Denhardt 1998). A definition which similarly overemphasizes purposiveness or efficiency is the one provided by Jackson (1982:121): "a bureaucracy is a particular form of organization composed of bureaus or agencies, such that the overall system consists of conspicuously coordinated activities which have been explicitly created to achieve specific ends." What this efficiency-driven approach boils down to is the idea that bureaucracy rests on a notion that the complete ordering of time and space is possible. Think of the concept as a bureau or desk with drawers in it, which seems to call out to you, demanding that everything must fit in its place. Things that are untidy, or do not fit in some place, cannot be tolerated. This way of thinking is the bureaucratic mentality, and ultimately, when we are talking about bureaucracy, we are talking about a mindset, but one which exhibits a lot of variation. One of the areas where this mindset plays out has to do with control -- social control --and its ideal sanctioning system, criminal justice. Often, the following shorthand list of Weber's characteristics of bureaucracy is seen in criminal justice textbooks:
Rulification and routinization -- effort-saving rules and equal treatment
Specific spheres of competence -- clear division of labor, specialization
The principle of hierarchy -- leave no office uncontrolled
Expertise of office holders -- managers to have technical training
Written record-keeping -- everything to be recorded and filed; red tape
Since the more we simplify Weber, the more we make bureaucracy sound bad, it might be helpful to examine some of the reasons why Weber (1947) thought bureaucracies were good. The following are those reasons, and they are largely indisputable.
The Reasons Why Bureaucracies are Good
|1. Bureaucratic organizations are the most efficient
means of controlling the work of large numbers of people.
2. Bureaucratic organizations are technically superior to any other type of organization in accomplishing complex goals.
3. Bureaucratic organizations bring about equality since civil service rules and codes conduct reduce discrimination.
4. Bureaucratic organizations are rational, efficient, and expert because they master a problem through specialized knowledge.
THE SCIENTIFIC MANAGEMENT MOVEMENT
At about the same time Weber's ideas were being formulated, another influential figure would emerge to change the way the world looked at something so basic as what it meant to "manage" something. You see, prior to this individual entering the stage, most people worked for autocratic family businesses where there only existed various degrees of familial benevolence to guide management practice. The individual who changed all that was F.W. Taylor, and his ideas merit at least a brief sidetrip here.
|Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856-1915): the founder of scientific management, father of efficiency experts, Isaac Newton of work, and first management consultant, held numerous patents and authored five books, the most notable being Principles of Scientific Management (1911). Taylor revolutionized ("Taylorized") the steel industry, the paper industry, the defense industry, and along with Henry Ford improved mass production in the auto industry. "Taylorization" meant continuous production processes which are continuously improved with workers following orders on specific instructions about how to do the job. In 1935, Stalin started imitating Taylorism in the Soviet Union, and today, companies like Toyota Motor Corp. still run on Taylorist principles. In 1940, one of Taylor's associates, Morris Cooke, started applying Taylorist principles to education (he started the practice of using adjunct professors) and government work, but most people now realize that the first book on public administration (White 1926) was as much inspired by F.W. Taylor as it was by Woodrow Wilson.|
Scientific management reached its peak in America during 1900-1930, but it had lasting effects beyond that. Taylor himself was not a very good speaker, and he always had to explain himself over and over again in front of congressional committees about things like his concept of "first class man." A first class man was usually the rate-buster, or the person stopwatch studies indicated could get the most work done in the shortest amount of time. Because Taylorís scheme was rational, perhaps too rational, it came to be seen as denigrating to workers as human beings, so many in the federal government (the military, particularly) thought his ideas were dangerous, with scientific management banned by federal law from ever being implemented in that sector. However, one of Taylor's followers, Henry Gantt (famous for inventing "Gantt Charts" used to track project deadlines) eventually got PERT (Program Evaluation and Review Technique) and CPM (Critical Path Method) to be accepted by the military and other government sectors. Some of Taylor's other followers, Frank & Lillian Gilbreth -- the "founders of time-motion studies" and "1st lady of management" -- invented various devices (the chronocyclegraph) using stopwatches and strobe lights which workers put on and had their movements tape-recorded while they worked -- discovered 17 basic movements of the hand (all based on the ability to search, grasp, load, select, hold, and transport) and more efficient eye-tracking habits; and experimented with different types of factory whistle blasts, suggestion boxes, and intramural programs among employees. Lillian Gilbreth is particularly known for her contributions to administrative theory in general.
F.W. Taylor was a pragmatist and a perfectionist, always looking for the "one best way." He hated "soldiering," the term in those days for workers just doing what the informal workgroup had established as a fair days work (no rate-busting). "Speedy" Taylor wanted everybody to be a rate-buster, and he thought unions were unnecessary. Whenever he was brought in as a consultant, he would typically achieve a 200% increase in productivity with only a 50% increase in wages. People would say all sorts of bad things about his methods, but they couldn't argue with his results. It may be significant to note that social problems, like alcoholism and divorce, went down considerably wherever his methods were implemented. His methods and principles were as follows:
Create a time study rate system -- Taylor would find the fastest worker in the organization, the fastest "rate-buster" whom, of course, everybody else in the organization hated. If one didn't exist, he would "scientifically" go out, recruit, hire, and train somebody. He then examined that person's movements on the job, suggested the elimination of unnecessary movements, and took the speediest rate at which this "first class person" could work to hold the other workers accountable to it (with minor adjustments for newness at the job, rest periods, and unavoidable delays).
Create "functional foremen" -- Taylor fought against using the military model in organizations. No manager was to have disciplinary powers; that was the job of a special "Disciplinarian Office" which are known today as Personnel Offices. The notion of "functional" means supervision over some aspect of work, not supervision over people. This notion essentially meant the creation of specialized clerks with oversight over some aspect of the production, which today we call "expediters" or "quality control/assurance" clerks. These clerks had the authority and were known as functional foremen while the regular foremen practiced the exception principle where only big problems come to their attention. Because most assembly-line productions involve 8 major steps to a finished product, Taylor advocated a span of control of 8.
Establish cost accounting -- also known as task management, this approach involved the use of instruction and routing cards and a timekeeping system where workers punched a clock when they finished a job. Labor variance could then be analyzed, and management had the reporting tools they needed to identify bottlenecks. Rewards and punishments would be doled out by how the numbers looked on paper. Unions would not be allowed to stand in the way.
Pay the person and not the position -- end-of-year bonuses were considered too late by Taylor, who instituted a system of inequitable pay for workers. Those that looked good on paper (via the Accounting Office) were paid more (a system of high salary rate and low salary rate), and they were supposed to keep their salaries secret, especially from the union (which the unions didn't like). There were no attempts under Taylorism at job rotation; each worker was expected to specialize in a particular task they did well.
The 13 Scientific Management Principles
| 1. Regularized operations which conserve investment, sustain the enterprise, and assure
2. Assurances of continuous operation and employment by planned and balanced continuous earning opportunities
3. Waste-saving techniques which entitle workers and management to increased wages and profits
4. A higher standard of living for all workers
5. A happier home and social life for all workers
6. Assurances of healthful and socially agreeable conditions of work
7. Opportunities for improvement of individual capacities thru scientific methods of work analysis, selection, training, assignment, transfer, and promotion of workers
8. Assurances by training and functional foremanship the opportunity for workers to develop new and higher capacities, and eligibility for promotion to higher positions
9. The development of self-confidence and self-respect among workers
10. The development of self-expression and self-realization among workers thru an atmosphere of research and validation
11. The building of character thru the proper conduct of work
12. The promotion of justice thru the elimination of discrimination in wage rates and elsewhere
13. The elimination of factors in the environment which are irritating and cause friction; the promotion of common understanding, tolerances, and the spirit of team work
FOUR THEORIES OF BUREAUCRATIC POLITICS
The field of public administration has always been interested in bureaucratic behavior, either from the organizational theory point of view or the "ecology of administration" (Gaus 1947) point of view, the latter being a focus upon bureaucracies interact with their larger environment, particularly their political environment. From the field of political science, then, comes four (4) theories of bureaucratic politics. These theories are designed to shed light on the inner workings of bureaucracy as well as how bureaucracies interact with political systems. Political scientists examine factors that influence the exercise of discretion and policy implementation, and they are not much concerned with the reasons why bureaucracies exist in the first place, such as was the concern of French sociologists like Crozier (1964). Different research questions exist, and the four theories of bureaucratic politics represent neatly laid-out areas of inquiry which allow political scientists to conduct research.
#1. The politics-administration dichotomy is a theory which holds that bureaucrats are experts who should be left alone to do their job without political interference. It derives from the Woodrow Wilson days of the "founding" of public administration, and is easily found expressed in both "old" and "new" textbooks of public administration (e.g., White 1926; Goodnow & Rohr 2003). It holds that there should be no favoritism in hiring or contracting decisions. In its strictest form, the theory holds that there should be a complete separation of administration from politics. Students are most likely to encounter the theory when studying the council-manager form of municipal government where the city manager is expected to be some kind of outside "neutral expert." In criminal justice, it is most often encountered in the literature on court management or court reform. It is also likely to be encountered when the topics of ethics or efficiency are discussed in the field of public sector management. While the theory has long been useful for marking off the boundaries of public administration as an intellectual field, application of the theory in reality and practice has yielded very little by way of insight into bureaucratic behavior or a better understanding of the policy-making process. Montjoy and Watson (1995) argue that the theory was never intended to be applied strictly and should be used only as a guide for assessing normative behavior, or professional ethics. Further, Svara (1999) argues that the word "dichotomy" (which implies strict separation) should be replaced by "complementarity" since the thrust of public administration literature from Wilson (1989) onward has stressed such concepts as interdependency and reciprocal influence. It is probably accurate to say that politicians and public administrators regularly negotiate their mutual influence upon one another. Politicians, for their part, who are used to a much more "rough and tumble" world than public administrators, sometimes try to control bureaucracies by appointing directors who are completely opposed to the mission of the bureaucracies they are supposed to manage. Public administrators, for their part, tend to react to this by re-emphasizing merit, demanding disclosures, or engaging in various kinds of ethical whistleblowing or workarounds. Of course, sometimes bureaucracies can choose to blindly follow political leadership for purposes of enhancing their power position or in hopes of being able to exercise more discretion over an important agency function. Most governments generally face continual struggles with establishing the proper balance between political control of bureaucracy and democratic control of bureaucracy, and such struggles are a hallmark of democratic systems.
#2. The iron triangle theory holds that three groups feed off of each other and develop long-term, regularized relationships, those three groups usually being identified as: special interest groups; congressional subcommittees; and bureaucratic agencies. Special interest groups are major contributors to political campaign finances, and either have their own in-house lobbyists or retain one of the several well-established lobbying firms who all seem to have offices along Washington's legendary K Street. European (EU) lobbying takes place mainly in Brussels and is rapidly growing to resemble the U.S. pattern although the job title "consultant" is more common overseas for what Americans call a lobbyist. In the U.S., OpenSecrets.org says the biggest spending on lobbying activity comes from the medical and/or pharmaceutical industries, followed by the energy industry, followed by defense contractors, followed by realtors, followed by telecoms, and followed by automobile manufacturers, and so on. Lobbyists sometimes hire celebrities to be their spokesperson (an example would be that guy, "Cliff" or John Ratzenberger, from the TV show "Cheers" who represents the manufacturing industry), but far more often, lobbying firms actively recruit and hire from the ranks of staffers (legislative staff assistants or LSAs) on congressional committees or subcommittees (an example would be an LSA to some Senator on the Senate Committee for Homeland Security who takes a job as manager of governmental relations for the travel industry). Thus, the travel lobbying firm capitalizes on its "connections" and political access to at least one important politician who heads an important Senate committee. Since the lobbying firms gain so much influence to "steer" legislation, the bureaucratic agencies have no choice but to align themselves with such firms (which they call "working a constituency") in hopes of "steering" legislation favorable to the agency itself. Iron triangle theory assumes bureaucratic behavior is guided by a kind of "squeaky wheel gets the grease" philosophy (Downs 1993), which in more technical terms means that agency power is derived from satisfying constituents, not consumers. A staple of public administration thought (e.g., Rourke 1984; Knott & Miller 1987) is that consumers make the worst constituents, as they only represent the poor, uneducated, general public who seldom vote, have no financial muscle, and have short little attention spans. In short, iron triangle theory does a good job of explaining things like regulatory capture, which occurs when a state agency fails to act in the public interest and instead starts acting on behalf of special interests. Sometimes, iron triangle theory is stretched to support conspiracy theories about military-industrial complexes and the like.
#3. The issue network theory holds that bureaucracies are not as rigid or rational as iron triangle theory portrays them to be, and that, also, more than three actors are involved in the process, such as other members of congress, the president, political candidates, special interest groups, advocacy or watchdog groups, and interested citizens. The word "issue" in this theory's name stems from the idea that for every issue, there are a number of political elites or parties who are involved in and know each other via the issue. The word "network" implies the existence of a loose set of relationships between people (elites and non-elites) who only have limited interest and/or control over resources that a bureaucracy needs for policy continuity. An "issue network" is typically regarded as a much looser process than a much-tighter "policy community" (Marsh 1998). In public administration, the idea that bureaucracies are influenced by issue networks comes from the field of organizational behavior (Kickert & Koppenjan 1997). Research indicates that people who work in organizations often influence those around them (e.g., family, friends) with thoughts about what policies their organization ought to be pursuing, and are simultaneously bombarded by similar messages from a variety of actors which might include special interest groups, politicians running for office, media pundits, and/or prominent, outspoken neighbors or friends. In strategic management terms, an issue network represents "strategic alliances" of parties with diverse interests who come together for a brief period of time to help shape the direction of policy formulation on a single issue, but more importantly, they create path dependencies that bureaucrats come to rely upon for feedback on implementation. Issue network theory appeals to those who agree with the notion that "bureaucrats are people too," and the theory does a good job of explaining such things as the personality factors behind bureaucratic politics as well as the many policy discontinuities which result from the open conflict, or game-like nature, of issue network outcomes. The field of public management has recently developed an interest in finding ways to harness the power of issue networks.
#4. The principal-agent theory holds that bureaucratic behavior is best explained by the interplay between two groups: principals (buyers in the language of economic theory) who want to control as much as they can of the bureaucracy; and agents (sellers or providers) who strive to avoid having any control by principals placed over them. In practice, principals are synonymous with supervisors and agents are the same as subordinates (Horn 1995). The theory rests extensively upon what is known about the nature of working in hierarchical organizational structures where one of the main problems is a lack of upward (vertical) communication so that supervisors can know if subordinates are, in fact, carrying out their orders (Jackson 1983; Miller 2005). Agents control this information flow, and are often as diffuse or obscure as possible about it. In such a diffuse information environment, principals often further seek to manipulate and mold the behavior of agents so that they will act in accordance with the principals' preferences. However, principals tend to know less than agents about what is really important, and principals often lose control over their agents except for episodic times when they exercise power over salary contracts. In many ways, principal-agent theory is really about the management of incentives, or what motivates people to communicate and perform under various incentives. Clearly, an obvious finding is that principals who underpay their agents can expect little effort in return as well as downright resistance to change, a phenomenon which managers would do best to not take personally (Barzelay 1992). Principal-agent theory is constantly being applied in a variety of contexts with mixed empirical results. Some particular research areas where the theory might make valuable contributions would be the study of bribery and corruption, since these things can easily be seen in supply-and-demand terms as a kind of market transaction. Also, the notion of a "fair day's work" is undeveloped in the theory.
BUREAUCRATIC DEFECTS AND PATHOLOGIES
There are many criticisms of bureaucracy, and the most important ones raise questions about its impact on society without making it a convenient scapegoat for all of society's ills. The first and foremost question to ask is whether bureaucracy is compatible with democracy. There are many who say it is not. For example, Hayek (1994) in his book, The Road to Serfdom, makes the argument that bureaucrats represent central planners who are interested in increasing governmental control of everyday life to the extent that every bureaucratic society runs the risk of becoming a totalitarian society. Mills (2000) makes a similar point in The Power Elite about the kinds of expertise power and superior technical skills which tend to concentrate in bureaucracies. Scholars in public administration (e.g., Jreisat 2002) usually just point out that bureaucracies represent unelected officials and to some extent are accountable to no one. Then, there are those who just dislike bureaucracies because they represent rules, regulations, hierarchy, standardization, and impersonality. It's difficult to assess whether large bureaucracies tend toward totalitarianism because few empirical studies exist on the subject. In historical context, it may be true since countries like Germany, Italy, and Japan did increase the size of their bureaucracies before starting World War II, but there have been numerous examples of other countries, like India, the U.K., and U.S., which created large bureaucracies and simultaneously safeguarded democracy.
A second possible defect/pathology concerns whether a large bureaucracy actually hinders or stunts a developing country's development in other ways, such as political development. Heady (2001) calls this the "imbalance thesis" and it argues that a large bureaucracy displays elements of nepotism and political favoritism, and, more importantly, overparticipates in the political affairs of state, to the detriment of elected politicians who are challenged whenever they try to implement reforms in a more democratic or representative direction. Riggs (1994a) agrees with Heady (2001) that imbalance in development can occur, and certainly common sense would suggest that growth and efficiency would be stifled whenever a large bureaucracy suffers under its own weight of swelled ranks and too many public employees. In far too many countries of the world, the only hope for a viable job is that of a "government worker." Whether or not a government payroll economy stunts private sector development and development in other ways is an empirical question which researchers do investigate, but usually come up with mixed results. What has arisen in recent years, interestingly enough, are numerous "consultants" and a whole consulting industry who will tell you if your bureaucracy is "imbalanced" or not. Such downsizing consultants do not normally address whether bureaucracies usurp power, however.
A third defect/pathology charges that bureaucracies are too rigid and unable to change or be innovative. Crozier (1964) exemplifies this view that bureaucracies simply take too long to get anything done. It is a widespread perception. Consultants as well as government executives have, for many years, subjected bureaucracies to the latest management fads, like team building, total quality management (TQM), reinvention, reengineering, etc. Often, such reform attempts fail to understand that a certain amount of bureaucratic ritualism -- in the form of rules and standards -- may be quite beneficial for a society. Rules exist for a reason -- to prevent chaos and ensure accountability. Following the rules means preventing punishable mistakes, and every bureaucrat knows this because it is part of their survival instinct to seek safety thru compliance and avoiding risk. On the other hand, when rules are used to cover up mistakes, poor judgment, or a lack of intelligence, those are different matters and indeed some pathological phenomena.
There is no such thing as the perfect bureaucracy. The real world of public management is always going to be different from any academic characterizations of it. Realizing this does not mean that academic pursuits should be abandoned, but instead, a doubling of effort is called for in attempts to rid the study of bureaucracy from pre-conceived perceptions. There are likely much more variant forms of bureaucracy than the ideal-type which intrigued Weber (1947). The full Weberian bureaucratic model rarely exists in practice, but some features of it are found in all bureaucracies. A number of complex and diverse views exist on the subject, and surely it is premature to call any of them "right" or "wrong."
THE COMPARATIVE APPROACH TO BUREAUCRACY
Comparative public administration has long recognized that bureaucracy is inevitable. There is little doubt that any sizeable, viable polity in the world today must have a public service which meets the criteria for a bureaucracy (Heady 2001). It may also be true that globalization can be seen as the expansion of bureaucratic structure. However, the inevitability of bureaucracy does not mean uniformity, as there is much variation throughout the world. So-called "deviant bureaucracies" may exist, especially in newer developing nations and in socialist societies (Kulcsar 1991).
Bureaucracies vary by departmentalization, which references the number of cabinet agencies or ministries the government has. Chapman (1959) argued that, at minimum, any government needs five (5) departments: foreign affairs; justice; finance; defense, and internal affairs. Most growth comes from adding new departments off the internal affairs category (like education, transport, health, etc.) Other departmental growth occurs when regulatory commissions grow in size and become full-fledged departments, or when quasi-public "government corporations" become full-fledged government agencies. According to Chapman (1959), the worldwide average back around 1959 was fifteen (15) departments, Russia being the exception because in its Soviet heyday it had fifty (50) different government departments. According to Heady (2001), the worldwide average nowadays is still about 15 (the number of cabinet agencies and ministries in the U.S. and U.K.) although some countries (mostly small ones) get by with as few as 10 or 12, and another cluster of countries (Indonesia, South Africa, South Korea, Mexico, Canada, and Greece) have "bloated" bureaucracies of 20 departments or more. Obviously, the larger the number of departments, the harder it is to coordinate them, and the interrelationship problem will result in fragmented decision making when policy requires different agencies to work on different facets of the same social problem.
Bureaucracies also vary by the nature of their civil service system, which references how someone goes about getting a job with the federal government. Variation can occur not between countries, but within countries as different departments do their hiring differently. The most important factor is perhaps whether people wind up in government jobs by accident or not. In other words, one should ask whether public service really has any meaning. One should also ask if people are prepared by training or ability to work in the civil service. One of the findings from the comparative literature is that in developed countries (as opposed to developing countries), more people work at the state and local levels of government (Heady 2001). In other words, developing countries hire more people at the central, or federal, level, even though the extent of public employment is higher in developed countries. Qualifications for public service depend upon the political system, and party loyalty or patriarchal patronage are the only requirements in some countries. Political system and regime type will always be a factor.
Significant also is a country's historical legacy, which references all sorts of things, mostly negative, such as being a former colony, having experienced disasters, to having a hardened culture of bureaucratic inertia or dependency. Some of these factors are difficult but not impossible to put into a model (see Prof. Fred Riggs Home Page), but the end result is usually that the government's bureaucracy will have a semidifferentiated (or prismatic) interlocking mixture of bureaus, chambers, offices, and rooms. Such governments will essentially be wasting a lot of resources to try evening out the unequal distribution of services under such arrangements, and in the end, it all comes back to arrangements -- organizational issues; or how structures are set up to perform functions -- regardless of the debates about bureaucracy, regardless of all the talk about culture -- it all boils down to the social scientific need to classify before analyzing. A bureaucracy is not an autonomous unit in a political system, but it can be as self-directing as it wants to be as well as responsive to its environment. For example, in Japan the practice of gaiatsu is common, where Japanese bureaucrats ask foreign government officials to lobby the Japanese government on issues favored by Japanese bureaucrats. Such "hidden activism" by bureaucrats is not uncommon in countries other than the US, and may very well be prevalent among American bureaucrats as well. Nonetheless, it is often the case that politics gets the type of bureaucracy it deserves, and along those lines, the model produced by Heper (1987:20) is illuminating as to the associated types of polity and bureaucracy:
Heper's Six Types of Bureaucracy
Absence of a
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Last updated: June 04, 2012
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O'Connor, T. (2012). "Theories of Bureaucracy," MegaLinks in Criminal Justice. Retrieved from http://www.drtomoconnor.com/4090/4090lect02.htm.