chapter  5
The politics of bureaucracy
Pages 30

The preceding chapters were, in essence, the foundation for this and the following three chapters. We have discussed the relationship of public administration to its environment by elaborating the social and economic surroundings of administration, the cultural milieu in which administration functions, attempts of public administration to recruit personnel from that environment and the patterns of organizational structure within the bureaucracy. In this chapter we begin to examine the relationship of politics to the conduct of public administration and to the policy decisions made by administrators. It is sometimes appealing to think about public administration as just management, but this would be misleading. The interaction of administration with both formal and informal political actors in society has a profound impact on the behavior of administrators and on their decisions. The extent of this influence, and the manner in which it is exerted, are the subjects of this chapter and those that follow. Perhaps the best place to begin this discussion is by again noting the survival of the ancient proverb of public life that politics and administration are separate enterprises and that such a separation is valid both in the analysis of public institu­ tions as well as in the actual conduct of public business (see Wilson, 1887; in contrast see Appleby, 1949; Svara, 1998). Although any number of authors have attempted to lay this proverb to rest, it has displayed amazing resilience and reappears in any number of settings in any number of political systems (Campbell and Peters, 1988). We must, therefore, assume that this proverb, if not entirely or even partially valid from an analytic perspective, serves some purpose for administrators and politicians. What does the artificial separation of these two activities assume to do that makes the survival of this “useful fiction” so desirable for both sets of actors? For public administrators, this presumed separation of administration and politics allows them to engage in politics (organizational rather than partisan) without being held accountable politically for the outcomes of their actions. Further, they can engage in policy making – presumably using technical or legal criteria for their decisions – without the interference of political actors who might otherwise recognize political or ideological influences on policies and make demands upon them to modify those policies (Rose, 1987; see also Page and Jenkins, 2005). Thus, the actions of administrators may be regarded by politicians, the public and even by themselves as the result of the simple application of rational, legal, or technical criteria to questions of policy. This apparent professional detachment may make otherwise unacceptable decisions more palatable to the public (Handler, 1996). This appearance of rational and technical decision making is heightened when, as in the Anglo­ American democracies, great efforts are made to make the civil service politically neutral. The separation of politics and administration also allows politicians some latitude that they might otherwise lack. In essence, the separation of these two types of institutional choices facilitates the difficult decisions of modern government being made by individuals who will not have to face the public at a subsequent election. Thus, it may allow politics to shape, or at least influence, an important decision that will be announced by a “non­ political” institution that will not be held publicly accountable. Further, the conception that political and technical decision making can be separated in public life has allowed political reformers to remove many important public decisions as far as possible from “politics” – meaning in

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their conceptions largely corrupt machine politics and other pejorative aspects of political life. This separation results in many important governmental functions being transferred from partisan political control to independent agencies, bureau­ cracies and technocratic elites (Mannheim, 1946). It is obviously assumed that the administrators who make decisions in these settings are, in fact, insulated from political pressures and are able to make decisions pro bono publico because of that insulation. As we will show, however, the artificial separation of the political and administrative functions, instead of removing decisions from political influence, may actually subject them to different and more invidious types of political influences. These influences are believed to be more invidious because, having already been defined out of existence, they are difficult for the public to identify and even more difficult to control. Further, the capacity of the bureaucracy to make binding rules for society may be hidden to all but the most astute members of society, given the relatively arcane procedures used (Kerwin, 2003; Baldwin, 1996). Having still not completely exorcized the demon of the separation of politics and administration, we are now at least in a position to understand why the actors in the policy process may be willing to accept that doctrine and why scholars may come to believe them. Thus, although scholars may discount the politicist­ administration dichotomy in the abstract, when they confront the realities of how the actors perceive their roles, they must accept at least the psychological reality of the separation. We will, therefore, discuss the political environment of administrative decision making, as well as the political influences on those decisions. In so doing, it is useful to distinguish several dimensions of the political activity of administrators. The first of these dimensions is labeled “internal-external,” or perhaps more appropriately “policy-survival.” On one end of this dimension is political activity within the agency which seeks to take a variety of inputs from pressure groups, partisans, the political executive, and any number of other sources and develop a policy. On the other end of the continuum are political activities directed toward maintaining and expanding the organization – purposive and reflexive goals in Mohr’s (1982) terminology. These two forms of politics are rarely so neatly separated in real life, and pursuing one may contribute to accomplishing other goals. However, we can usefully distinguish the two forms of politics for analytic purposes and discuss the types of influences likely to be brought and the major loci of political conflict for each. The second dimension of administrative politics is formality. Administrators interact both with other governmental officials (legislators, the political executive, other administrators, representatives of sub­ national governments) and with unofficial political actors (largely the representatives of pressure groups). Again, these interactions are not always clearly separable, for officials often carry with them a continuing commitment to the cause of particular interests, and pressure groups may function in quasi­ official capacities. However, it is useful to make such a distinction for analytic reasons because the style of the interaction, its legitimacy and its probable influences on policy will vary considerably as a function of the type of actor involved as well as a function of the type of agency activity involved. The two dimensions of political activity by public administration, along with examples of each category of activity, are presented in Figure 5.1. We show four

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categories based upon a cross­ classification of the two dimensions. Thus, we will be looking at administrative politicized actions that have a characteristic of being both formal and informal, and directed more toward policy formation or survival. Our example of internal (policy)–formal administrative politics is the relationship between an upper echelon civil servant and the cabinet minister he or she is designated to serve (see Rouban, 2007). Ministers, who are charged with extensive political chores in addition to managing a large and complex bureaucratic organization, cannot be reasonably expected to have a sufficient grasp of the issues involved or of the information available for many policy decisions; such decisions will, therefore, be produced through either consultation with, or delegation to, their senior administrative officials. Consequently, interactions between ministers and civil servants are a dominant feature of the policy­ making process and must be better understood in order for the analyst to predict the outcomes of the policy process in contemporary political systems. Some progress has been made in formulating models to assist in that understanding, but substantial refinement and conceptualization are still required (Peters, 1987; Savoie, 1999). External-formal administrative politics are perhaps best identified in two ways. The first is the process of public budgeting, in which administrative agencies have to seek their continued and expanded funding from other institutions of gov­ ernment. A number of authors note that this is perhaps the most crucial locus of administrative politics because of its pivotal role in the future programs of the agency (Kraan, 1996; Wanna et al., 2003). It is certainly a political activity that is the focus of an enormous amount of effort on the part of the agencies and one that has received considerable attention in the popular and scholarly literature. Budgeting involves the mobilization of considerable political support for the agency, if it expects to be successful in obtaining its desired funding, and consequently is an activity that will involve considerable informal politics – lobbying by both interest groups and the agency itself – as well. This is true even as governments attempt to enhance the rationality of the budget process and make better economic decisions (see Chapter 7). The second important type of external-formal politics is the politics of public accountability through which other formal public bodies may seek to curb the autonomy of the public bureaucracy. Any number of institutions in the public sector

Figure 5.1 Types of bureaucratic politics

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have some responsibility for seeing that the public bureaucracy does not abuse its discretion and acts in accordance with the laws that established its organizations and the laws that it administers. Given the importance of both of these types of “external-formal” politics in contemporary politics, they will be discussed in chapters (7 and 8) of their own. Internal-informal administrative politics is probably best characterized by the relationship of pressure groups and administration in the formation of policy. In virtually all political systems, attempts are made by interest (or pressure) groups to influence public decisions. The openness of public administration to group influences, and the relative success of groups in obtaining the policies they seek, are again a function of a number of institutional, political and cultural factors that require further discussion and elaboration. However, except in the most totalitarian society, there is generally considerable opportunity for group action and for group influence on the process of policy formulation in bureaucracy. Finally, external-informal administrative politics is best characterized by relationships between interest groups, the public at large, and public bureaucrats attempting to develop support for their programs and for the continued success of the agency in the budgetary process. Those bureaucrats have several means of trying to influence even the inattentive public, including advertising and the promotion of a positive image among the public. The armed forces in a number of countries, for example, advertise attempting to boost recruitment, and agencies hold countless press conferences to demonstrate their contribution to the society. As noted above, this type of political activity is inextricably bound to the ability of pressure groups to influence policy and the ability of agencies to survive in a competitive environment. With some general picture of the scope and variety of administrative politics in mind, we begin our more intensive discussion of the politics of administration by examining the informal side of these interactions – that is, the relationship between administration and pressure groups, political parties and other unofficial political groups who seek to influence the course of public policy or whom the administrators rely upon in justifying their future programs and funding. Our discussion of the relationships of political parties to administration is substantially briefer than that of pressure groups, in large part because the major influence of party is manifested through official mechanisms, when members of the party occupy positions of government and attempt to impose their views on the bureaucracy. Since, almost by definition, political parties are motivated principally by the opportunity to hold public office rather than the opportunity to influence policy through other activities, it makes more sense to examine the official rather than the unofficial side of partisan activities. The major exception to that generalization would be small parties that have little or no chance of holding office and hence function in many ways as interest groups.