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6.4A: Bureaucracies and Formal Groups

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    8109
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    A bureaucracy is an organization of non-elected officials who implements the rules, laws, and functions of their institution.

     

    LEARNING OBJECTIVES

     

    Explain the function of bureaucrats

     

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    Key Points

     

    • A bureaucrat is a member of a bureaucracy and can comprise the administration of any organization of any size, though the term usually connotes someone within an institution of government.
    • Public administration houses the implementation of government policy and an academic discipline that studies this implementation and that prepares civil servants for this work.
    • Red tape is excessive regulation or rigid conformity to formal rules that is considered redundant and hinders or prevents action or decision-making. Examples include filling out paperwork, obtaining licenses, having multiple people or committees approve a decision and various low-level rules.
    • Street-level bureaucracy is the subset of a public agency or government institution containing the individuals who carry out and enforce the actions required by laws and public policies.
    • Street-level bureaucrats include police officers, firefighters, and other individuals, who on a daily basis interact with regular citizens and provide the force behind the given rules and laws in their areas of expertise.

     

    Key Terms

     

    • Street-level bureaucracy: It is the subset of a public agency or government institution containing the individuals who carry out and enforce the actions required by laws and public policies
    • red tape: A derisive term for regulations or bureaucratic procedures that are considered excessive or excessively time- and effort-consuming.
    • Public administration: It houses the implementation of government policy and an academic discipline that studies this implementation and that prepares civil servants for this work.

    A bureaucracy is an organization of non-elected officials of a government or organization who implements the rules, laws, and functions of their institution. A bureaucrat is a member of a bureaucracy and can comprise the administration of any organization of any size, though the term usually connotes someone within an institution of government. Bureaucrat jobs were historically often “desk jobs,” though the modern bureaucrat may be found “in the field” as well as in an office. Public administration houses the implementation of government policy and an academic discipline that studies this implementation and that prepares civil servants for this work. In the US, civil servants and academics such as Woodrow Wilson promoted American civil service reform in the 1880s, moving public administration into academia.

    Red tape is excessive regulation or rigid conformity to formal rules that is considered redundant or bureaucratic and hinders or prevents action or decision-making. It is usually applied to governments, corporations and other large organizations. Red tape generally includes filling out paperwork, obtaining licenses, having multiple people or committees approve a decision and various low-level rules that make conducting one’s affairs slower, more difficult, or both. Red tape can also include “filing and certification requirements, reporting, investigation, inspection and enforcement practices, and procedures”. The “cutting of red tape” is a popular electoral and policy promise. In the United States, a number of committees have discussed and debated Red Tape Reduction Acts. Across the Atlantic, the European Commission has a competition that offers an award for the “Best Idea for Red Tape Reduction”. The competition is “aimed at identifying innovative suggestions for reducing unnecessary bureaucracy stemming from European law”. In 2008, the European Commission held a conference entitled ‘Cutting Red Tape for Europe’. The goal of the conference was “reducing red tape and overbearing bureaucracy” to help “business people and entrepreneurs improve competitiveness”.

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    Bureaucratic Red Tape: Bundle of U.S. pension documents from 1906 bound in red tape.

    As opposed to bureaucrats carrying out “desk jobs,” street-level bureaucracy is the subset of a public agency or government institution containing the individuals who carry out and enforce the actions required by laws and public policies. Street-level bureaucracy is accompanied by the idea that these individuals vary the extents to which they enforce the rules and laws assigned to them. The concept of street-level bureaucracy was first coined by Michael Lipsky in 1980, who argued that “policy implementation in the end comes down to the people who actually implement it”. He argued that state employees such as police and social workers should be seen as part of the “policy-making community” and as exercisers of political power. Street-level bureaucrats include police officers, firefighters, and other individuals, who on a daily basis interact with regular citizens and provide the force behind the given rules and laws in their areas of expertise.

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    Bureaucracy – Magritte: An illustration made in homage of the original painting by René Magritte depicting the faceless men that comprise bureaucracies.