Every government is judged with the responsibility of addressing the issues that affect its people. This attempt by a government to address public issues affecting its people is what is called public policy. Respective governments, whether federal, state or city, usually come up with public policies either as laws, decisions, regulations or actions that guide the running of public affairs in their countries.
In most cases, policies arise from interactions that occur among groups who want change, decision makers, and those who are to be affected by the particular policy. It is not just the president, congress and the courts that are involved in policy making, bureaucracies also have an important role in policy making.
It is commonly known that every government has three branches of government that oversee the formation and implementation of policies. However, the process of policy making involves other actors that may not be obvious to the public. Bureaucracies are one of them.
A bureaucracy can consist of agencies that are established to carry out specific functions. This group of actors has become very important in the contemporary society to the extent that it is now referred to as a fourth branch of government. As already mentioned, bureaucracies are usually less visible than the other actors involved in public policy making. The US has a total of about 23 million bureaucrats that work in either federal or state departments.
This means that of all the policy making actors, bureaucracies has a more representation of the American people in almost all the sectors. Earlier government systems hired people through the patronage system, which was full of favoritism, but today’s government is under the civil service system where people are hired on merit. Civil servants are also protected by the law making it difficulty for any one to fire them; this has ensured that there exists a nonpartisan civil service (Gerston, 2010).
Bureaucracies in the US
According to Summary (2010), “Four types of bureaucracies exist in the United States: these are cabinet departments, regulatory agencies, government corporations, and independent executive agencies” (p. 1). There are fifteen cabinet departments each headed by a secretary; however, the attorney general heads the department of Justice. The president chooses the secretaries with the approval of the senate. Secretaries are assisted by undersecretaries who also have deputies and assistants.
All the governments departments are specifically assigned policy areas to deal with. Regulatory agencies also play vital roles in policy making in the many economic sectors in the US. They make and also enforce policies that are specifically designed to safeguard the public interests. This also involves solving disputes that may come about as a result of those policies.
There are also government corporations, whose role is to serve the people in areas that the private sector may use to exploit them. Lastly, independent executive agencies also form part of the bureaucracies by carrying out specialized functions (Summary, 2010).
Role played by bureaucracy in policy making
In policy making, bureaucracies have important roles that they play. First, they implement policies; they oversee the administration of public policies; and lastly they regulate public policies. In implementing policies, bureaucracies carry out congressional, presidential or judicial decisions. In most cases, public policies do not execute themselves; bureaucracies come in to translate them into programs.
There have been cases where implementation of policies doesn’t work well, often this has led to bureaucracies being blamed, but the problem may have originated from other actors. In administering policy, bureaucracies have the authority to select the best response to a given policy problem. Bureaucracies usually have more discretion in this area especially those who are always in contact with the public, for instance the social welfare workers, the police, and the judges (Gerston, 2010).
In regulating public policy, bureaucracies have the mandate to monitor and make adjustments in the way private entities operate. This is an area that experiences controversies as many players come into dispute with the way bureaucracies carry out their activities. Many have criticized this regulatory control, but those who support it argue that regulation minimizes possible problems. Regulation and control through bureaucracies has increased tremendously in the US in the last two or three decades.
Their scope of operation has also significantly increased. The democratic theory states that “popular control of governments depends on elections” (Summary, 2010, p. 1). However in this context, it would not have been possible to elect the more than four million military and civilian federal and state employees. Civil servants are not elected by the electorate, but they respond well and respond effectively to the interests of the public (Summary, 2010)
Bureaucracies are better players in policy making because they have basic administrative values such as “representation, economy, effectiveness, efficiency, transparency and fairness” (Haruta, 2010, p. 1). In addition, their administrative discretion helps in bringing about just and fair decisions making. This has always been used to distinguish between administration and politics. Bureaucracy is also a form in which cultural values are expressed.
These values are usually entrenched in principle of expertise, which is widely employed by bureaucrats when distancing themselves from decisions made by politicians on the technical facets of public policy.
However, bureaucrats in government institutions have been said to be the ones responsible for the many political decisions that made. This is why bureaucracy is nowadays seen by many as a political institution, a fourth arm of government. It is more evident in a policy making process that is shared, participatory and one that involves many actors (Haruta, 2010).
The dominance of bureaucracies in policy making has seen other actors try to control them, an effort that has not succeeded. This has mostly been attributed to the role of iron triangles. Threes triangles have dominated domestic policy making. Iron triangles work in a mutual relationship and help in decentralizing the process of policy making.
They bring about a bureaucratic policy making process that is more widespread and participatory, whereby most of the bureaucrats are experts in technical policy making, and they are emotionally and intellectual drawn to issues, but not by their material interests (Haruta, 2010).
As we have seen, bureaucracies, though less obvious, are deeply involved in the process of policy making. Policies when made need implementation, control and regulation, functions that are made available thanks to bureaucracies. When bureaucracies were first used, they had simple roles, but these gradually changed to conform to the demands of the society. They now have more active roles to play in formulating and implementing social and economic policies.
Gerston, L. (2010). Public Policy Making: Process and Principles. New York, NY: M.E. Sharpe.
Haruta, R. (2010). The Invisible Hand or What Makes Bureaucracy indispensable? Haruta. Web.
Summary. (2010). The federal bureaucracy. Summary. Web.