THE AMERICAN FEDERAL BUREAUCRACY The American federal bureaucracy shares common characteristics with other bureaucracies, but it has its own characteristics that distinguish it from others. 1. Divided supervision - Congress has the power to create, organize, and disband all federal agencies. Most of them are under the control of the president, although few of them actually have direct contact with him. So the bureaucracy has two masters: Congress and the president. Political authority over the bureaucracy is shared, then, according to the principles of separation of powers and federalism. On the national level, both Congress and officials in the executive branch have authority over the bureaucracy. This divided authority encourages bureaucrats to play one branch of government against the other. Also, to complicate things even more, many agencies have counterparts at the state and local level. Many federal agencies work with other organizations at state and local levels of government. 2. Close public scrutiny - Government agencies in this country operate under closer public scrutiny than they do in most other countries. The emphasis in American political culture on individual rights and their defense against abuse by government makes court challenges to agency actions more likely. About half of the cases that come to federal court involve the United States government as either defendant or plaintiff. 3. Regulation rather than public ownership - United States government agencies regulate privately owned enterprises, rather than operate publicly owned ones. In most Western European nations the government owns and operates large parts of the economy; the U.S. government prefers regulation to ownership. THE GROWTH OF THE FEDERAL BUREAUCRACY The Constitution made little mention of a bureaucracy other than to make the president responsible for appointing (with the ãadvice and consent of the Senateä) public officials, including ambassadors, judges, and "all other officers of the United States whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by law" (Article II, Section 3). No provisions mentioned departments or bureaus, but Congress created the first bureaucracy during George Washingtonâs presidency. PATRONAGE The bureaucracy began in 1789 when Congress created a Department of State to assist the new Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson. From 1789 to about 1829, the bureaucracy was drawn from an upper-class, white male elite. In 1829, the new President Andrew Jackson employed a spoils system to reward party loyalists with key federal posts. Jackson believed that such rewards would not only provide greater participation by the middle and lower classes, but would insure effectiveness and responsiveness from those who owed their jobs to the president. The spoils system ensured that with each new president came a full turnover in the federal service.
THE PENDLETON ACT Late in the nineteenth century the spoils system was severely criticized because it allowed people with little knowledge and background to be appointed to important government positions. Some
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