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Learning objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Explain the three different models sociologists and others use to understand bureaucracies
  • Identify the different types of federal bureaucracies and their functional differences

Turning a spoils system bureaucracy into a merit-based civil service, while desirable, comes with a number of different consequences. The patronage system tied the livelihoods of civil service workers to their party loyalty and discipline. Severing these ties, as has occurred in the United States over the last century and a half, has transformed the way bureaucracies operate. Without the patronage network, bureaucracies form their own motivations. These motivations, sociologists have discovered, are designed to benefit and perpetuate the bureaucracies themselves.

Models of bureaucracy

Bureaucracies are complex institutions designed to accomplish specific tasks. This complexity, and the fact that they are organizations composed of human beings, can make it challenging for us to understand how bureaucracies work. Sociologists, however, have developed a number of models for understanding the process. Each model highlights specific traits that help explain the organizational behavior of governing bodies and associated functions.

The weberian model

The classic model of bureaucracy is typically called the ideal Weberian model , and it was developed by Max Weber, an early German sociologist. Weber argued that the increasing complexity of life would simultaneously increase the demands of citizens for government services. Therefore, the ideal type of bureaucracy, the Weberian model, was one in which agencies are apolitical, hierarchically organized, and governed by formal procedures. Furthermore, specialized bureaucrats would be better able to solve problems through logical reasoning. Such efforts would eliminate entrenched patronage, stop problematic decision-making by those in charge, provide a system for managing and performing repetitive tasks that required little or no discretion, impose order and efficiency, create a clear understanding of the service provided, reduce arbitrariness, ensure accountability, and limit discretion.

Susan J. Hekman. 1983. “Weber’s Ideal Type: A Contemporary Reassessment”. Polity 16 No. 1: 119–37.

The acquisitive model

For Weber, as his ideal type suggests, the bureaucracy was not only necessary but also a positive human development. Later sociologists have not always looked so favorably upon bureaucracies, and they have developed alternate models to explain how and why bureaucracies function. One such model is called the acquisitive model of bureaucracy. The acquisitive model proposes that bureaucracies are naturally competitive and power-hungry. This means bureaucrats, especially at the highest levels, recognize that limited resources are available to feed bureaucracies, so they will work to enhance the status of their own bureaucracy to the detriment of others.

This effort can sometimes take the form of merely emphasizing to Congress the value of their bureaucratic task, but it also means the bureaucracy will attempt to maximize its budget by depleting all its allotted resources each year. This ploy makes it more difficult for legislators to cut the bureaucracy’s future budget, a strategy that succeeds at the expense of thrift. In this way, the bureaucracy will eventually grow far beyond what is necessary and create bureaucratic waste that would otherwise be spent more efficiently among the other bureaucracies.

Questions & Answers

In which areas do you think peoples rights and liberties are at risk of government intrusion?
camille Reply
whenever......new government
Marjan Reply
clearly,who was meant to be in charge of this new government?
Marjan
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David Reply
Anything on the Mayflower Compact
deborah Reply
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Eliza Reply
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Rachel Reply
Pluralist theory stating what?
Kalu
Meaning
Eliza
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Benedict Reply
compare and contrast a federalist system of govt to a confederate system
Jewles Reply
how does one separate from State or government
Joni Reply
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Ich Reply
what is liberty
Luna Reply
You feel free and you decide and do and achieve the right for you
Ich
was the Bill of rights a necessary addtion to the constitution?
noor Reply
So, if I'm clear a member of the Congress CANNOT live in the state they represent?
Jeremy Reply
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Seth Reply
why is today's government so corrupt?
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Source:  OpenStax, American government. OpenStax CNX. Dec 05, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11995/1.15
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