State of the state in an age of bigger bureaucracy. A hidden branch of government
The New American State: Bureaucracies and Policies since World War II, edited by Louis Galambos. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 220 pp. $27.50 hardcover, $11.95 paper. IT is common to perceive Washington, D.C., as a politicians' dormitory. Elected officials come to town, stay for two, four, six, or more years, then return home, wiser and weathered. This perception is only part of the picture. Much of ``government'' is conducted not by elected officials but by professional administrators - bureaucrats. And the size of and deference to bureaucracies, along with the interrelationships between bureaucracies and the Congress, president, and Supreme Court, are a subject of political analysis equal to any other.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Louis Galambos has collected several case studies - histories and political analyses - in his book ``The New American State.'' The premise of the book is that in the United States bureaucracies have become more prevalent, extensive, intricate, professional, and influential since World War II.
Galambos opens with the question: Who's running the new and formidable American state? His answer, obvious by the title, lies in the historical development of public bureaucracies.
In 19th-century America, ``the individual loomed over the organization.'' A limited bureaucracy, the federal government collected little tax, employed few people, and, except in times of war, obtruded little on the lives of Americans.
Near the end of the century changes in the American private sector began: Individual enterprise was replaced by large corporate organization; functional specialization became the rule rather than the exception; people were increasingly touched by organization and hierarchy; and representation of organized interests came to the fore in dimensions never before seen.
Responding to these changes - which accelerated through the world wars and continue today - the public sector changed accordingly. Although faced with the same types of structural problems, public organizations are driven by a different force. Galambos writes: ``Business bureaucrats confronted markets with price signals that gave relatively quick responses to their organizations' performance. Government administrators faced not a market but a series of publics - legislators, federal executives, interest groups, media, clients rival agencies - whose conflicting objectives were sometimes hard to discern and usually difficult to incorporate in a compromise policy.''
In the concluding chapter, Matthew A. Crenson and Francis E. Rourke continue this historical line. They explore the shift from wartime bureaucracy to peacetime bureaucracy; they depict the strong reform movements of the past few decades; and they summarize the position of the bureaucracy today:
``The prewar movement toward depoliticizing the bureaucracy has been supplanted in the postwar years by a growing effort in the US to recapture a bureaucratic apparatus that political leaders perceived as having spun completely out of control.''
These summary conclusions are supported by the case studies. Samuel P. Hays, a historian, provides a sharp analysis of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in ``The Politics of Environmental Administration.'' Charles E. Neu, also a historian, synthesizes into one bureaucratic function the roles of the Central Intelligence Agency, the military services, the National Security Council, and the White House staff in ``The Rise of the National Security Bureaucracy.''
Economist Heywood Fleisig skillfully describes the nearly unexplainable Federal Reserve Board in ``Bureaucracy and the Political Process: The Monetary and Fiscal Balance.'' And finally, Carolyn L. Weaver, also an economist, details the history, power, and problems of the Social Security Administration in ``The Social Security Bureaucracy in Triumph and in Crisis.''
These case studies, adeptly written and not bound by their authors' craft or specialized training, support the premise put forth by Galambos. But one should ask, Do the bureaucracies selected adequately represent the whole?
Of the bureaucracies examined, only the EPA can be considered truly regulatory. But the EPA is just 17 years old; its life covers less than half the post-World War II period Galambos refers to. Equally important, the EPA was created, in large part, to satisfy public demand. Does it, then, represent other regulatory agencies promoted by business or with considerably different histories (for example, the Federal Trade Commission, Securities and Exchange Commission, Civil Aeronautics Board, Federal Communications Commission)?
Many agencies are more interactive with the public and businesses than those examined in this book. Fleisig admits that Federal Reserve Board actions are frequently incomprehensible to economists: How could the public be expected to respond? And the actions of the national security bureaucracy are sometimes held in secret from elected officials, not be mention the public. Some agencies are considered responsive; others are accused of ``capture'' by the industries they regulate. These political phenomena go unexplored in this book primarily because of the agencies selected.
The agencies that are examined constitute, we agree, a powerful but unrealized control on our lives. ``The New American State'' is an important book - which is why its limited range is to be regretted.
Ralph Braccio is an associate with ICF Inc., a Washington-based public-policy consulting firm.