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The bureaucracy: lesson overview

AP.GOPO:
PMI‑2 (EU)
,
PMI‑2.A (LO)
,
PMI‑2.A.1 (EK)
,
PMI‑2.A.2 (EK)
A high-level overview of the role of the federal bureaucracy in US government.  
The bureaucracy carries out the responsibilities of the federal government. The merit system, in which bureaucrats are hired and promoted based on their skills rather than their political connections, has enhanced the effectiveness of the bureaucracy.

Key terms

TermDefinition
bureaucracyAn administrative group of nonelected officials charged with implementing policies created by the other branches of government.
civil serviceThe permanent, professional branches of government administration. The civil service is nonpartisan and its employees are hired and promoted based on merit rather than patronage.
iron triangleA longstanding, mutually-beneficial relationship between an interest group, congressional committee, and bureaucratic agency devoted to similar issues. For example, the American Association of Retired Persons, the Congressional Subcommittee on Aging, and the Social Security Administration all work closely on issues related to seniors.
issue networkA group of individuals, public officials, and interest groups that form around a particular issue, usually a proposed public policy that they wish to support or defeat.
merit systemIn the federal bureaucracy, the practice of hiring and promoting individuals based on their qualifications and job performance.
patronageIn the federal bureaucracy, the practice of hiring and promoting individuals based on their political support for a party or candidate rather than on their merit. Also called the spoils system.

Key takeaways from this lesson

Professionalism in the bureaucracy — The bureaucracy carries out the responsibilities of the federal government to regulate and enforce individual and commercial activities. Except for top-level political appointees, employees of the bureaucracy are specialists in their fields, who are hired and promoted based on merit rather than on their connections to politicians.
The transition from a patronage-based bureaucracy to a merit-based system has increased the bureaucracy's professionalism and expertise. The bureaucracy is nonpartisan and career civil servants tend to span many presidential administrations, allowing for continuity in the public sector.

Review questions

Why is the federal bureaucracy necessary? What role does it play in the policymaking process?
What impact does the merit system have on the effectiveness of the bureaucracy?
What's the difference between an iron triangle and an issue network?

Want to join the conversation?

  • blobby green style avatar for user OliviaM
    Which of the following statements best illustrates the concept of issue networks?
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  • leafers ultimate style avatar for user William Potash
    Which part of an iron triangle gathers information, oversees regulations, and relies on Congress for its funding?
    (3 votes)
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