Skip to ContentGo to accessibility pageKeyboard shortcuts menu
OpenStax Logo

15.1 Bureaucracy and the Evolution of Public Administration

During the post-Jacksonian era of the nineteenth century, the common charge against the bureaucracy was that it was overly political and corrupt. This changed in the 1880s as the United States began to create a modern civil service. The civil service grew once again in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration as he expanded government programs to combat the effects of the Great Depression. The most recent criticisms of the federal bureaucracy, notably under Ronald Reagan, emerged following the second great expansion of the federal government under Lyndon B Johnson in the 1960s.

15.2 Toward a Merit-Based Civil Service

The merit-based system of filling jobs in the government bureaucracy elevates ability and accountability over political loyalties. Unfortunately, this system also has its downsides. The most common complaint is that the bureaucrats are no longer as responsive to elected public officials as they once had been. This, however, may be a necessary tradeoff for the level of efficiency and specialization necessary in the modern world.

15.3 Understanding Bureaucracies and their Types

To understand why some bureaucracies act the way they do, sociologists have developed a handful of models. With the exception of the ideal bureaucracy described by Max Weber, these models see bureaucracies as self-serving. Harnessing self-serving instincts to make the bureaucracy work the way it was intended is a constant task for elected officials. One of the ways elected officials have tried to grapple with this problem is by designing different types of bureaucracies with different functions. These types include cabinet departments, independent regulatory agencies, independent executive agencies, and government corporations.

15.4 Controlling the Bureaucracy

To reduce the intra-institutional disagreements the traditional rulemaking process seemed to bring, the negotiated rulemaking process was designed to encourage consensus. Both Congress and the president exercise direct oversight over the bureaucracy by holding hearings, making appointments, and setting budget allowances. Citizens exercise their oversight powers through their use of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and by voting. Finally, bureaucrats also exercise oversight over their own institutions by using the channels carved out for whistleblowers to call attention to bureaucratic abuses.

Order a print copy

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.


This book may not be used in the training of large language models or otherwise be ingested into large language models or generative AI offerings without OpenStax's permission.

Want to cite, share, or modify this book? This book uses the Creative Commons Attribution License and you must attribute OpenStax.

Attribution information
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a print format, then you must include on every physical page the following attribution:
    Access for free at
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a digital format, then you must include on every digital page view the following attribution:
    Access for free at
Citation information

© Jan 5, 2024 OpenStax. Textbook content produced by OpenStax is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License . The OpenStax name, OpenStax logo, OpenStax book covers, OpenStax CNX name, and OpenStax CNX logo are not subject to the Creative Commons license and may not be reproduced without the prior and express written consent of Rice University.