Who Works for Whom?

GabeGovernment, Mini Lessons

From Common Sense Government: 

Bureaucratic growth was heightened at the outset of the twentieth century. After his 1912 inauguration, President Woodrow Wilson oversaw the most rapid bureaucratic growth in America’s history to that point. In 1913-14, he signed three laws which both created new and powerful federal agencies like the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Reserve, and expanded federal power with the Clayton Antitrust Act. This law allowed the federal government to regulate private industry and necessitated the hiring of more bureaucrats to fulfill its expanded regulatory needs. During World War I, with the creation of nearly 5,000 new but temporary federal agencies charged with producing the needed resources for the war, an unprecedented bureaucratic growth occurred. This foreshadowed an even greater expansion in the coming decades.

Among President Wilson’s most important contributions to American bureaucracy was his interpretation of the difference between politics and bureaucratic administration. During his career as a political scientist prior to his 1912 election, Wilson had developed a theory of the relationship between politics and administration, which he detailed in an 1887 essay titled, “The Study of Administration.” Wilson held that administration and politics are inherently different, and ought to be treated as such. He wrote,

“The field of administration is a field of business. It is removed from the hurry and strife of politics,” and that “[a]dministration lies outside the proper sphere of politics. Administrative questions are not political questions.”

This meant that once a legislative bill became law, the bureaucratic agencies that saw to its implementation and enforcement should operate as businesses would. As attractive as this reasoning might first appear, business operates in pursuit of profit. But bureaucratic officials have no profit motive; instead, they are often incentivized to lobby for higher budgets and more extensive powers at the expense of taxpayers.

  1. Apart from your school, have you had a direct encounter with your local, state, or federal bureaucracy? What was it like? Did you get the impression that the government officials were working for you? Or against you?
  2. How does your experience of customer service in a store compare to that of a government office? What explains the difference?
  3. Some states have great government organizations. The Indiana BMV is one incredible example. Wait times are typically under 10 minutes, and often under 5. How does your Bureau of Motor Vehicles compare?

This reading is an excerpt from Certell’s Common Sense Government eBook.  Certell offers curriculum materials and eBooks free of charge for use by students and teachers.  Click Here to download the Common Sense Government materials.

Image Citation:

26, Mar. 2018, Bureaucracies and Crisis [Digital image].  Retrieved from <google.com>.