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Complexities, Constraints,and Problems

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Previous Section: The Bureaucrats: The Who's and How's

Next Section: Good, Bad, or Necessary




Complexities and Problems


          Imagine a bureaucracy so large that all citizens are influenced by its every decision.  In this nation, the other sections of the government have become unable to control their own creation, and in a sense, the leader of the bureaucracy has morphed into a dictatorship.  Maybe this seems farfetched for many people in the modern world, but this nightmare is one that must be faught in every bureaucracy, including the United States.  As the American bureaucracy grew in the 20th century, people began to see that not only was the bureaucracy capable of abusing its power because the checks on it were very limited, but also that the bureaucracy was growing at a rapid pace, which further stimulated the danger of an all-powerful bureaucracy.  Thus, the government began to impose rules and regulations on the Federal bureaucracy.  But like a double-edged sword, this created problems within the bureaucracy as well as control the it.


Five Major Problems with Bureaucracy


Constraints in History


          In order to create a bureaucracy with agencies that respond to demands in an open and fair way, many constraints have been placed on the government's bureaucracy.  If not for these laws, it's possible the bureaucracy would have already gained an immense amount of power and influence:


          In 1946, the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) was put into place because before hand, there was no real federal law that governed the conduct of federal agencies.  Most laws had only addressed the issue of how to hire bureaucrats.  Thus, the APA provided a minimum procedural standard that federal agencies had to follow.  This meant that now agencies had to follow certain protocol when they created rules and other regulations.  As usual, these protocols led to an overall longer rulemaking process.  At the same time the APA also  created a process for federal courts to review and judge the decisions of an agency.  In these ways, federal agencies would be less able to abuse their powers.[1]


          In 1966, the Freedom of Information Act was passed, and it basically said that individuals are allowed to request access to a federal agencies records.[2]  Now agencies could be much more easily held accountable for their actions.


          In 1966, in order to protect the environment, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was passed.  This provided that federal agencies had to be mindful of the environment when taking action.  To make sure agencies met the requirements of NEPA, they were now forced to prepare statements which stated how their actions affected the environment.[3]


          In 1974, the Privacy Act was created to protect the records of individuals.  This meant that Federal agency records could not be disclosed without the written consent of the whomever the record was about.  These records also can only be disclosed when personal identifiers are available, such as a social security number, name, etc.[4]


Leads to...


          As you can see, the various constraints did more than just limit the bureaucracy and protect citizens.  Many times these laws also created even more bureaucratic agencies to administer the laws, and as a result, the bureaucracy grew enormously.  This created what James Q. Wilson believes to be a series of "Self-Perpetuating Agencies."[5]  As the Federal bureaucracy began to become entrenched into American society, individual agencies began to gather groups of constituents who supported the agency.  But as time went on, these constituents began to demand more specific and different programs not provided for in the original agency.  By this point the agency cannot object to its clientels needs, and goes on to either spread its branches to encompass the interests of its constituents or support the development of new agencies that benefit its clients.  Overall, this is like a parent who tries to accomodate the wishes of his or her child as the child makes new friends who also have needs.


          As you can guess, this leads to many problems within the bureaucracy.  In the United States, the following 5 bureaucratic pathologies or problems began to develop:


  • Red tape: Because of a huge amount of protocol, now complex procedures are necessary to achieve even the tiniest of tasks.
  • Conflict: Agencies almost seem to be working against each other,
  • Duplication: Many times, the size of the bureaucracy means that more than one agency has been created that overlap in purpose.  Not only does this cause confusion, but it is further conflict between agencies.  (Do you remember our talk about the Departments?)
  • Imperialism: The bureaucracy has become almost self-perpetuating as it seems to grow without regard to benefit or cost. 
  • Waste: In many instances, Federal agencies seem to be spending more than what is necessary to accomplish simple tasks.  Perhaps this stems from the insane amount of regulations.


          But there are excuses to these problems:


  • Red tape: If this red tape was not present, the government could easily operate out of step with one another and harm the American people overall.
  • Conflict: Often times, Congress wants to achieve partially inconsistent goals, and in order to do so, agencies will sometimes have to work against each other.
  • Duplication:  Often times, Congress wants to achieve overlapping goals, and in these instances having a bureaucracy with more than one agency doing some of the same things is necessary.
  • Imperialism: Agencies are only responding to the general publics will and attempting to satisfy the people's demands.
  • Waste: The government bureaucracy has no choice but to spend more money because it has to go through more red tape and try to provide un-bias, fair services.




How to Un-complicate: Deregulation? 


            So how is America suppose to deal with such a huge and ever growing bureaucracy?  Well over the past few decades, one commonly introduced solution has been this idea of Deregulation.


            Deregulating is when a government lifts its restriction on business, industry, and other market forces.  In all, it can be as an attempt o create a more free market.  This idea comes from the belief that the rules and regulations on many policies and processes have become overly-complex and burdensome.  Resultantly, when things take more time to be done, and time is money, many people have begun to believe that over-extensive regulations have harmed the market by raising prices.  Proponents of deregulation also cite the fact that as regulation leads to a huge bureaucracy, which costs money to maintain, regulation has stifled economic growth.[7]  By deregulating, market forces will be able to operate more freely, and this will amount to two main pros.  One, is obviously that the economy will go up due to the reasons above.  The other is that with less regulation, this means less bureaucracy will be needed, solving America's bureaucratic problem (well not really solving but at least moving in the right direction).


            Now hold on.  Don't jump on the deregulation band wagon just yet before you've heard both sides of the argument on the next page.  But before you do, one last dose of a pro-deregulation comic can't hurt: 




Just for kicks, look at how the Federal bureaucracy has grown/shrank in the last 40ish years:


But compare that to the percentage of the population employed:


So has the bureauracy really ever been "growing" within the last 40ish years?





Previous Section: The Bureaucrats: The Who's and How's

Next Section: Good, Bad, or Necessary


  1. This paragraph takes information from- law.jrank.org. "Administrative Procedure Act of 1946." 15 Nov. 2009. http://law.jrank.org/pages/4084/Administrative-Procedure-Act-1946.html
  2. This paragraph takes information from- hhs.gov. "The Freedom of Information Act." 11 Dec. 2009. http://www.hhs.gov/foia/index.html
  3. This paragraph takes information from- epa.gov. "National Environmental Policy Act." Dec. 11 2009. http://www.epa.gov/Compliance/nepa/
  4. This paragraph takes information from- hhs.gov. "The Privacy Act of 1974." 11 Dec. 2009. http://www.hhs.gov/foia/privacy/index.html
  5. This paragraph takes information from- Wilson, James Q. "The Rise of the Bureaucratic State." American Government: Readings and Cases. 7th ed. Ed. Peter Woll. US: Pearson Longman. 2008
  6. Picture taken from- http://i42.tinypic.com/2mrd2dw.jpg
  7. This paragraph takes information from- wps.ablongman.com. "The Federal Bureaucracy." 11 Dec. 2009. http://wps.ablongman.com/long_edwards_gab_8/0,10654,2190081-,00.html
  8. Picture taken from- http://www.powayusd.com/online/virtualcivics/Bureaucracy%20Cartoon.htm
  9. Graph based on information from- The Federal Census Bureau. http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/cats/federal_govt_finances_employment/federal_civilian_employment.html
  10. Graph based on information from- The Federal Census Bureau. http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/cats/federal_govt_finances_employment/federal_civilian_employment.htmlhttp://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/cats/federal_govt_finances_employment/federal_civilian_employment.html

Comments (1)

mberry said

at 12:51 pm on Nov 12, 2009

bring in stuff from the Woll readings here to add academic sophistication to this section!

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