The Growth of the Federal Bureaucracy

The federal bureaucracy began with the three cabinet departments established by George Washington in 1789. Since that time, not only have the number of departments in the cabinet more than tripled, but now there are also myriad agencies, bureaus, government corporations, authorities, and administrations that take care of the government's business.

The nature of the civil service

For the purposes of this book, the term civil service refers to the civilian employees of the federal government. Wealthy men dominated the bureaucracy through the 1820s. This changed with the election of President Andrew Jackson (1828), who opened government jobs to the common people. He inaugurated the spoils system, under which party loyalty — not experience or talent — became the criterion for a federal job. This was the beginning of patronage, and it continued through the late 19th century. Congress passed the Pendleton Act in 1883, which created a system for hiring federal workers based on qualifications rather than political allegiance; employees were also protected from losing their jobs when the administration changed. To encourage a nonpartisan bureaucracy, the Hatch Act (1939) prohibited federal workers from running for office or actively campaigning for other candidates. Such limitations on civil liberties are considered by many the price that has to be paid for a professional, nonpolitical bureaucracy.

The rise of the welfare state

During the 1930s, the size of the federal bureaucracy mushroomed due to President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal agencies. Although many were short-lived, others continue to play a role in the lives of Americans: the Social Security Administration (SSA), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). Out of these agencies' programs grew the concept of the welfare state, under which the federal government (rather than individuals, municipalities, or the states) assumes the major responsibility for the well-being of the people. President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society during the 1960s expanded the welfare state with such programs as Medicare, Head Start, the Job Corps, and the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO). As with the New Deal, many Great Society programs became a permanent part of the federal bureaucracy. The idea of the government seeing to the needs of its citizens carried on into the 1970s: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created by the Nixon administration, the new Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the Labor Department transformed the workplace for most Americans, and new cabinet departments were established.

National security bureaucracy

The federal bureaucracy deals with more than social and economic policies. A large number of agencies are responsible for protecting the American people from both foreign and domestic dangers. The national security bureaucracy includes the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Security Agency (NSA), and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). Responding to late 20th-century public concern about violent crime, drugs, and illegal immigration into the United States, agencies such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) have increased in size.

In the wake of events of September 11, the national security bureaucracy was reorganized and expanded. In October 2001, the Office of Homeland Security was established within the Executive Office of the President. Due to pressure from Congress, however, the office became a cabinet department in 2003. The Department of Homeland Security united 22 federal agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Customs Service, and the U.S. Secret Service. Agencies created specifically in response to the terrorist threat were also transferred to the new department; the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is an example.