by Rod Hague and Martin Harrop

Chapter Seventeen: Bureaucracy

Chapter Notes

  • The evolution of bureaucracies. In Western Europe: from royal patriarchy to modern bureaucracy. In the USA: from spoils-based to merit-based. Weber’s model: public administration as a disciplined hierarchy in which officials recruited and promoted on merit systematically apply legal rules to cases.
  • Bureaucracy's twentieth-century zenith: supporting the war effort and providing welfare. The contemporary emphasis on the three Es: spend less (economy), spend well (efficiency) and spend wisely (effectiveness).
  • Recruitment. Always an issue. Unified vs. departmental approaches. Importance of legal background in some unified systems. Corps system – unified by the back door. Affirmative action as a response to under-representation but positive discrimination has lost ground.
  • Organization of the public sector. Departments, divisions and non-departmental public bodies. Departments as the Weberian centrepiece. The use of ministerial-controlled appointments to the department, and of personal advisory staffs, to aid ministers in controlling departments and countering the knowledge and house view of embedded in departments’ divisions.
  • Non-departmental public bodies: state-owned industries, service delivery agencies, regulatory agencies, and advisory bodies. Autonomy from government provides flexibility, recognises professional status, provides protection from political interference and allows ministers to focus on policy-making rather than execution. The USA and the EU as examples of administrative systems in which such bodies are prominent.
  • Accountability of public officials. Being called to account (reporting) vs. being held to account (responsibility). Multiple accountabilities of senior public officials. External scrutiny by the legislature, ombudsman, interest groups and the media. Accountability recognises that senior officials do more than apply rules, Weber-style.
  • New public management (NPM). The critique of Weber. Osborne and Gaebler: goals, not rules; outcomes, not inputs; earn as well as spend; empower rather than control. Reform in the English-speaking world greater than that in continental Europe, where the public sector is embedded in legal codes. New Zealand's radical experiment. The impact of NPM: difficult to assess but certainly the discourse has changed in the English-speaking world. NPM’s fragmentation has led to a renewed emphasis on joined-up government.
  • E-government: using information and communication technology (ICT) to provide public services. Most advanced in high-income countries, including Scandinavia, South Korea, the USA. Also Singapore. The four stages: information, interaction, transaction and integration. Integration of public services through a one-stop electronic shop involves collaboration across the sector (joined-up data). The advantages (convenience and allows government to be proactive) and the disadvantages (surveillance and the danger of misuse).
  • The bureaucracy in authoritarian states: a powerful force. Can be a modernizing force: e.g. Egypt in Nasser’s early years. Bureau­cratic authoritarianism: mainly Latin American regimes in which technocrats in the bureaucracy imposed economic stability under the protection of a military government which repressed popular movements. But typically the authoritarian bureaucracy is overstaffed and ill-directed, constraining administrative capacity. China’s nomenklatura as a device through which the party maintains control.
  • Bureaucracy in competitive authoritarian regimes: often weakened by the personal relationship between president and people, which can by-pass and marginalize the bureaucracy. Presidential zeal may be defined in opposition to an unresponsive bureaucracy: ‘I get things done’. Public management operates in a somewhat uncoordinated way, with separate bureaucratic islands serving the interests of their local managers and limiting political control. Endemic corruption.


Figures and tables


Multiple choice questions


Essays and term papers

  1. To what extent, and by what means, should public administrators be subject to political control?
  2. Compare the perspectives on bureaucracy offered by Weber and by advocates of the new public management. Which model do you prefer?

Hague & Harrop, 2013 edn, ch. 17.

H. Bekke, J. Perry and T. Toonen, Civil Service Systems in Comparative
Perspective
C. Campbell and G. Wilson, The End of Whitehall: Death of a Paradigm?
B. Guy Peters, The Politics of Bureaucracy
F. Heady, Public Administration: A Comparative Perspective
R. Mulgan, Holding Power to Account: Accountability in Modern Democracies
D. Osborne and T. Gaebler, Reinventing Government
E. Page, Political Authority and Bureaucratic Power: A Comparative Analysis
C. Pollitt and G. Bouckaert, Public Management Reform – A Comparative Analysis: New Public Management, Governance, and the Neo-Weberian State
J. Raadschelders, T. Toonen and F. Van der Meer, The Civil Service in the 21st Century: Comparative Perspectives
E. Page and V. Wright, Bureaucratic Elites in Western European States
E. Page and V. Wright, From the Active to the Enabling State: The Changing Role of Top Officials in European Nations



Back to Resources page