Functions of Bureaucracy

Promoting Public Welfare and Income Redistribution

Social welfare programs seek to provide basic social protections for all Americans.

Learning Objectives

Identify key legislative milestones designed to promote public welfare

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • President Roosevelt implemented public welfare programs, such as Social Security, to mitigate the devastating effects of the Great Depression.
  • President Johnson continued the effort to promote public welfare in the 1960s by implementing programs such as Medicaid and Medicare.
  • Contemporary politicians commit themselves to promoting the public welfare through the passage of laws such as the Affordable Care Act.

Key Terms

  • New Deal: The New Deal was a series of economic programs enacted in the United States between 1933 and 1936. They involved presidential executive orders or laws passed by Congress during the first term of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The programs were in response to the Great Depression, and focused on what historians call the “3 Rs”: Relief, Recovery, and Reform.
  • Great Society: A set of domestic programs in the United States announced by President Lyndon B. Johnson at Ohio University and subsequently promoted by him and fellow Democrats in Congress in the 1960s. Two main goals of the Great Society social reforms were the elimination of poverty and racial injustice. New major spending programs that addressed education, medical care, urban problems, and transportation were launched during this period
  • Affordable Care Act: A law promoted by President Obama and passed by Congress in 2010 to improve access to health care for Americans.

The American government is charged with keeping Americans safe and promoting their wellbeing. Americans vote for candidates whom they believe have their best interests in mind; American political candidates (and the bureaucracy they marshall) seek to implement policies that will support the welfare of the American public. This is primarily achieved through social service programing.

The United States has a long political history of seeking to implement policy to promote public welfare. One of the most well-known initiatives to improve public welfare in times of need was President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s response to the Great Depression. Following the stock market crash of 1929, President Roosevelt invested unprecedented governmental funds into the expansion of the executive bureaucracy in order to employ Americans and mitigate the extreme financial decline of the era. President Roosevelt’s program was called the New Deal and is partially credited with lifting America out of the Great Depression. Under the auspices of the New Deal, President Roosevelt implemented programs that have lasted to the present day, such as Social Security. Thirty years later, President Lyndon B. Johnson assisted with the implementation of his Great Society initiative. President Johnson’s programs weren’t in response to economic decline, but rather solely sought to improve the welfare of the American public. President Johnson sought to improve racial and economic equality. He did so through the establishment of programs such as Medicare and Medicaid– federal programs that exist to the present day that ensure certain levels of health care coverage for America’s poor and elderly.The Great Society initiative further established educational programs such as the National Endowment for the Arts and generally deployed the executive bureaucracy to better welfare programs for the American public at large.

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More Security for the American Family: This image from the 1930s depicts a poster promoting the new Social Security program. Social Security exists to this day as a federal program to promote public welfare.

Current American politicians also attempt to ensure that programs exist to promote public welfare. Given downturn in the American economy since 2008, many public welfare programs have been cut due to lack of public resources. However, the federal government has, in some areas, reorganized funding to promote programs for public wellbeing. The gesture to improving the wellbeing of the public writ large is represented by President Obama’s 2010 law to increase public access to health insurance. This law is called the Affordable Care Act, but is more commonly known as Obamacare. Liberals and conservatives are divided on the merits of the law, but regardless of one’s political assessment of the law, it speaks to the government’s attempts to improve the wellbeing of the public.

Providing National Security

National security is the protection of the state through a variety of means that include military might, economic power, and diplomacy.

Learning Objectives

Name the government departments and agencies responsible for national defense

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Specific measures taken to ensure national security include using diplomacy to rally allies, using economic power to facilitate cooperation, maintaining effective armed forces, and using intelligence and counterintelligence services to detect and defeat internal and external threats.
  • Within the United States, there are a variety of governmental departments and agencies responsible for developing policies to ensure national security.
  • These organizations include the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the White House National Security Council.

Key Terms

  • counterintelligence: counterespionage
  • infrastructure: The basic facilities, services and installations needed for the functioning of a community or society
  • espionage: The act or process of learning secret information through clandestine means.

Providing National Security

National security, a concept which developed mainly in the United States after World War II, is the protection of the state and its citizens through a variety of means, including military might, economic power, diplomacy, and power projection.

Specific measures taken to ensure national security include:

  • using diplomacy to rally allies and isolate threats;
  • marshaling economic power to facilitate or compel cooperation;
  • maintaining effective armed forces;
  • implementing civil defense and emergency preparedness measures (including anti-terrorism legislation);
  • ensuring the resilience and redundancy of critical infrastructure; using intelligence services to detect and defeat or avoid threats and espionage, and to protect classified information;
  • using counterintelligence services or secret police to protect the nation from internal threats.
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The Central Intelligence Agency: the Central Intelligence Agency, responsible for providing national security intelligence assessments

There are a variety of governmental departments and agencies within the United States that are responsible for developing policies to ensure national security. The Department of Defense is responsible for coordinating and supervising all agencies and functions of the government concerned directly with the U.S. Armed Forces. The Department—headed by the Secretary of Defense—has three subordinate military departments: the Department of the Army, the Department of the Navy, and the Department of the Air Force. The Department of Homeland Security, established after the September 11, 2001 attacks, is responsible for working within the civilian sphere to protect the country from and respond to terrorist attacks, man-made accidents, and natural disasters.

The Central Intelligence Agency is part of the Executive Office of the President of the United States. It is responsible for providing national security intelligence assessments, performed by non-military commissioned civilian intelligence agents, to senior U.S. policymakers. The White House National Security Council is the principal forum used by the President for considering national security and foreign policy matters with his senior national security advisers, and Cabinet officials.

Maintaining a Strong Economy

Within the United States, there are numerous government departments and agencies responsible for maintaining a strong economy.

Learning Objectives

Differentiate between the various departments and agencies responsible for the health of the economy

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Department of Commerce is the Cabinet department of the U.S. government concerned with promoting economic growth.
  • The Federal Reserve is the central banking system of the United States, conducting the nation’s monetary policy, supervising and regulating banking institutions, maintaining the stability of the financial system, and providing financial services to U.S. and global institutions.
  • The Federal Trade Commission promotes consumer protection and the elimination and prevention of anti-competitive business practices, such as coercive monopoly.

Key Terms

  • currency: Money or other items used to facilitate transactions.
  • monopoly: An exclusive control over the trade or production of a commodity or service through exclusive possession.

Within the United States, there are numerous government departments and agencies responsible for maintaining a strong economy.

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The Federal Reserve: The seal of the Federal Reserve

The Department of Commerce is the Cabinet department of the U.S. government concerned with promoting economic growth. Among its tasks are gathering economic and demographic data for business and government decision-making, issuing patents and trademarks, and helping to set industrial standards. Organizations within the Department of Commerce include the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and the International Trade Administration.

The Department of the Treasury is an executive department and the treasury of the U.S. government. It prints and mints all paper currency and coins in circulation through the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the United States Mint. The Department also collects all federal taxes through the Internal Revenue Service and manages U.S. government debt instruments. The Federal Reserve is the central banking system of the United States, which conducts the nation’s monetary policy, supervises and regulates banking institutions, maintains the stability of the financial system, and provides financial services to depository institutions, the U.S. government, and foreign official institutions.

The Office of the United States Trade Representative is the government agency responsible for developing and recommending U.S. trade policy to the President, conducting trade negotiations at bilateral and multilateral levels, and coordinating trade policy within the government through the interagency Trade Policy Staff Committee (TPSC) and Trade Policy Review Group (TPRG). The Federal Trade Commission promotes consumer protection and the elimination and prevention of anti-competitive business practices, such as coercive monopoly.The Small Business Administration provides support to entrepreneurs and small businesses by providing loans, contracts, and counseling.

Making Policy

The actual development and implementation of policies are under the purview of different bureaucratic institutions.

Learning Objectives

Differentiate between cabinet departments, independent executive agencies, government corporation, and regulatory agencies in making policy

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Fifteen agencies are designated by law as cabinet departments, which are major administrative units responsible for specified areas of government operations.
  • The remaining government organizations within the executive branch outside of the presidency are independent executive agencies, such as NASA, the EPA, and the SSA.
  • Some agencies, such as the U.S. Postal Service and the national rail passenger system, Amtrak, are government corporations, which charge fees for services too far-reaching or too unprofitable for private corporations to handle.
  • Another type of bureaucratic institution is a regulatory commission, an agency charged with writing rules and arbitrating disputes in a specific part of the economy.

Key Terms

  • regulatory: Of or pertaining to regulation.
  • bureaucratic: Of or pertaining to bureaucracy or the actions of bureaucrats.

Making Policy

The executive and legislative branches of the United States pass and enforce laws. However, the actual development and implementation of policies are under the purview of different bureaucratic institutions mainly comprised cabinet departments, independent executive agencies, government corporations, and regulatory agencies.

Fifteen agencies are designated by law as cabinet departments, which are major administrative units responsible for specified areas of government operations. Examples of cabinet departments include the Department of Defense, State, and Justice. Each department controls a detailed budget appropriated by Congress and has a designated staff. Each is headed by a department secretary appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Many departments subsume distinct offices directed by an assistant secretary. For instance, the Interior Department includes the National Park Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the U.S. Geological Survey.

The remaining government organizations within the executive branch outside of the presidency are independent executive agencies. The best known include the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Social Security Administration (SSA). Apart from a smaller jurisdiction, such agencies resemble cabinet departments. Their heads are confirmed by Congress, though they are appointed by and report directly to the President.

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NASA: NASA is an example of an independent executive agency

Some agencies, such as the U.S. Postal Service and Amtrak (the national rail passenger system) are government corporations. They charge fees for services too far-reaching or too unprofitable for private corporations to handle. Ideally, they bring in enough funds to be self-sustaining. To help them make ends meet, Congress may give government corporations a legal monopoly over given services, provide subsidies, or both. Government corporations are more autonomous in policymaking than most agencies. For instance, the Postal Rate Commission sets rates for postage on the basis of revenues and expenditures.

Another type of bureaucratic institution is a regulatory commission, an agency charged with writing rules and arbitrating disputes in a specific part of the economy. Chairs and members of regulatory commissions are named by the president and confirmed by the Senate to terms of fixed length from which they cannot be summarily dismissed. Probably the most prominent regulatory commission currently in the news is the Federal Reserve Board.

Making Agencies Accountable

The institution responsible for ensuring that government agencies are held accountable is the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Learning Objectives

Describe the role the GAO plays in holding government agencies accountable

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The GAO is the audit, evaluation, and investigative arm of the United States Congress and conducts financial and performance audits.
  • Over the years, GAO has been referred to as “The Congressional Watchdog” and “The Taxpayers’ Best Friend” for its frequent audits and investigative reports that have uncovered waste and inefficiency in government.
  • The GAO also establishes standards for audits of government organizations, programs, activities, and functions, and of government assistance received by contractors, nonprofit organizations, and other nongovernmental organizations.
  • The GAO is headed by the Comptroller General of the United States, a professional and non-partisan position in the U.S. government.

Key Terms

  • audit: An independent review and examination of records and activities to assess the adequacy of system controls, to ensure compliance with established policies and operational procedures, and to recommend necessary changes in controls, policies, or procedures
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The Government Accountability Office: The GAO is the audit, evaluation, and investigative arm of the United States Congress

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is the audit, evaluation, and investigative arm of the United States Congress. It is responsible for ensuring that government agencies are held accountable. The GAO’s auditors conduct not only financial audits, but also engage in a wide assortment of performance audits.

Over the years, GAO has been referred to as “The Congressional Watchdog” and “The Taxpayers’ Best Friend” for its frequent audits and investigative reports that have uncovered waste and inefficiency in government. The news, media, and television often draw attention to GAO’s work by covering stories on the findings, conclusions, and recommendations in GAO reports. In addition, members of Congress frequently cite GAO’s work in statements to the press, congressional hearings, and floor debates on proposed legislation.

The GAO also establishes standards for audits of government organizations, programs, activities, and functions, and of government assistance received by contractors, nonprofit organizations, and other nongovernmental organizations. These standards, often referred to as Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards (GAGAS), must be followed by auditors and audit organizations when required by law, regulation, agreement, contract, or policy. These standards pertain to auditors’ professional qualifications, the quality of audit effort, and the characteristics of professional and meaningful audit reports.

The GAO is headed by the Comptroller General of the United States, a professional and non-partisan position in the U.S. government. The Comptroller General is appointed by the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate, for a 15-year, non-renewable term. Since 1921, there have been only seven Comptrollers General, and no formal attempt has ever been made to remove a Comptroller General.