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Discretionary and rule making authority: lesson overview

AP.GOPO:
PMI‑2 (EU)
,
PMI‑2.B (LO)
,
PMI‑2.B.1 (EK)
A high-level overview of what the bureaucracy can do.
The federal bureaucracy has a lot of independence when it comes to carrying out laws and executive orders.

Key terms

TermDefinition
bureaucracyAn administrative group of nonelected officials charged with implementing policies created by the other branches of government.
discretionary authorityAn agency’s ability to decide whether or not to take certain courses of action when implementing existing laws.
rulemaking authorityAn agency’s ability to make rules that affect how programs operate, and to force states and corporations to obey these rules as if they were laws.

Key bureaucratic agencies to know

AgencyDescription of responsibilities
Department of EducationAdministering educational policies to the states and promoting research on education.
Department of Homeland SecurityProtecting the United States from terrorist attacks, controlling borders, and minimizing damage from natural disasters.
Department of TransportationManaging highways, rails, and air travel.
Department of Veterans AffairsPromoting the welfare of armed services veterans and managing VA hospitals.
Environmental Protection AgencyProtecting human health and the environment by developing and enforcing regulations.
Federal Elections CommissionAdministering and enforcing the federal campaign finance law.
Securities and Exchange CommissionRegulating the stock market and protecting investors from fraud.

Key takeaways

Powers of the federal bureaucracy to implement policy — After the president signs a bill into law or issues an executive order, the federal bureaucracy is responsible for implementing that policy. Laws may lack clear, concrete details on how they should be enacted, so the federal bureaucracy has discretionary authority to make decisions on what actions to take—or not take—when implementing laws, as well as rulemaking authority to create regulations about how government programs should operate.
This authority enhances the power of the federal bureaucracy, giving it considerable jurisdiction over the implementation of government policies.

Review questions

How does discretionary authority promote bureaucratic independence?
Why do federal agencies have discretionary authority?
How does rulemaking authority increase the power of the bureaucracy?

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