chapter  6
The bureaucracy and political institutions
Pages 36

The previous chapter discussed the political relationship of bureaucracy to “informal” political actors such as pressure groups and political parties. We now turn our attention to the political relationships of the bureaucracy to formal institutional actors in government. In these relationships – labeled “formalinternal” and “formal-external” in our typology – the relative legitimacy of the bureaucracy is changed. When dealing with pressure groups, the bureaucracy represents the majesty of the state; when dealing with legislatures, prime ministers, presidents and the courts, the bureaucracy often appears as an extraconstitutional interloper in the affairs of government. Thus, like the pressure groups in our previous analysis, the bureaucracy must either seek to have its actions legitimated formally or be capable of bargaining successfully to gain influence over decisions. It must also bargain for funds to continue its existence and operations. Without carrying the analogy too far, these options for bureaucracies dealing with political institutions might correspond to the legitimate and clientela options available to pressure groups in their dealings with bureaucracy. The task of the bureaucracy in gaining access to decisions is rarely as taxing as that of the pressure groups; if anything, the tendency has been for the more representative and legitimate political institutions to throw power at the bureaucracy rather than resist its pleas for influence. These representative institutions are incapable of formally abdicating powers (even if they might want to), but they must bargain to obtain the assistance in policy making and implementation that only the bureaucracy can provide. Bureaucracies have the information and expertise that contemporary governments require for effective policy making, and often have closer contacts with social actors than do the “political” institutions of government. Therefore, the representative institutions must find a means of acquiring that information and legitimacy, even if that means informally abdicating their responsibilities. The shifting power relationships between bureaucracies and more representative institutions involves a delicate political process and some attention to public opinion. Most members of the public continue to regard their elected officials as responsible for the conduct of public business, and these officials must therefore continue the form (if not the substance) of policy making as they interact with the public bureaucracy. Both sets of actors in this exchange of power, influence, information and money have a great deal to lose by handling of the policy process poorly, and a political “game” of conflict and compromise results. Most of this game is hidden from the public eye, but it is an essential component of government and, despite its apparent illegitimacy, actually improves the quality of policy decisions in most instances. Two elements must be examined for us to understand the role played by bureaucracy in modern government. The first is an analytical understanding of the requirements for governing, whether that governing is by legitimate political institutions or by the bureaucracy (see Pierre and Peters, 2001). The second is a thorough review of the existing knowledge about the role of bureaucracy in policy making with that analytical picture firmly in mind (Peters, 1992). We would not expect political institutions to abdicate their rights to bureaucrats, nor do we expect a declaration of bureaucratic government to emanate from the depths of some office

T H E B U R E A U C R A C Y A N D P O L I T I C A L I N S T I T U T I O N S

building in Foggy Bottom, Whitehall, or Karlavägen. Rather, we are interested in the degree to which – given the alleged lack of leadership in traditional institutions of government and the difficulties that even skilled leaders have in managing government departments – the bureaucracy is capable of providing needed direction and leadership. This role for the bureaucracy has been largely assumed by theorists of postindustrial society; we now intend to provide some direction in conceptualization, measurement and analysis.