Elections & Public Perception: Impact on the Bureaucracy

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  • 0:02 Untouchable Bureaucracy?
  • 1:24 A Local Impact
  • 2:46 The President's Choice
  • 4:41 Congressional Adjustments
  • 6:27 Lawsuit!
  • 8:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will take a close look at how the political process and public perception impact the bureaucracy. We will do so through four scenarios that show the operation of these elements at local and national levels.

An Untouchable Bureaucracy?

The American bureaucracy is the administrative organization that handles the day-to-day business of the government. Sometimes, it seems untouchable, doesn't it? Its members are not elected by the people but appointed by the president or hired by the upper levels of the bureaucratic chain of command. What's more, it can be very difficult to have a bureaucrat fired, even for incompetence, because of the long process of hearings, appeals, and paperwork required for such an action.

Often, the process never reaches an end, and the bureaucrat keeps his or her job, incompetent or not. Small wonder, then, that the bureaucracy has developed a negative image. Many people feel that it is undemocratic and arbitrary, filled with red tape and waste, and nearly uncontrollable as it goes about its daily business of implementing the law of the land in the many situations and circumstances of human life.

This perception, however, is not entirely true. As we shall see in the following scenarios, the bureaucracy isn't untouchable and can, in fact, be impacted by public opinion and the political process.

A Local Impact

A group of farmers is gathered around a table at a local coffee shop discussing the USDA's Farm Service Agency, a bureaucratic organization that grants loans to farmers to help them keep and improve their farms. The farmers are disgusted by the attitude of their local FSA office. They are supposed to be able to apply for loans there, and many of them have tried, only to run into unhelpful employees who shove paperwork in their faces and fail to answer their questions. 'Bunch of paper-pushing bureaucrats!' one farmer snarls. 'All they think about is their rules. They don't care about people!'

In the corner of the coffee shop, however - unbeknownst to the farmers - sits the FSA office manager. He listens closely to the farmers' conversation, for he can't help but hear it, and he doesn't like what he hears. When he gets back to the office, he has a little chat with his staff about customer service. The farmers are shocked the next time they go to the office when the employees there, under the close supervision of the office manager, are friendly and helpful.

In this case, public perception and opinion has greatly impacted the bureaucracy, resulting in a change for the better.

The President's Choice

Citizens may not elect bureaucrats, but they do elect the people who appoint bureaucrats. Many candidates actually make the bureaucracy an issue at election time, stating their opinions about various agencies and departments, playing up to public opinion, and promising to make changes should they be elected.

A particularly vocal candidate has just been elected as president. He has promised to tighten up control of the bureaucracy, and his constituents now expect him to do so. While he soon realizes that the job is a bit more difficult than he thought, there are a few things that he can do to keep his word. First, the new president is very careful about whom he chooses to appoint. He selects his cabinet members thoughtfully, scrutinizing their background and experience, making sure that they agree with his ideas about the bureaucracy, and even obtaining their word that they will monitor their departments closely and cut waste as necessary.

He also declines to appoint people to positions he feels are useless. As the months go by, the president closely studies various bureaucratic agencies and departments and makes a few changes here and there, reorganizing the bureaucracy as he sees fit. For instance, he combines two agencies who are basically doing the same thing, and he eliminates a couple more that have outlived their usefulness.

Some bureaucrats cry foul of course, but the president takes that to mean that he is doing his duty well, and his constituents are pleased with the progress. They may not be able to elect the bureaucracy, but they have elected someone who can change it, at least to a point.

Congressional Adjustments

In our next scenario, citizens are up in arms, furious about the waste they've heard about in a particular bureaucratic agency. Money seems to be flying about wildly for unnecessary purchases, ridiculous prices on inexpensive items - a $300 hammer, anyone? - and lavish trips to resorts for 'meetings' and 'conferences.' Letters have been pouring in to members of Congress as well as to congressional candidates. Election day is fast approaching, and the candidates are promising to carefully investigate the matter and take action as necessary, while current members of Congress are assuring their constituents that they will handle the matter.

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