The Structure of the Federal Bureaucracy

The bureaucracy that implements, administers, and regulates federal programs is in the executive branch. However, Congress and the courts have bureaucracies of their own. Each member of Congress, for example, has a staff that manages the office and helps draft legislation. Congressional committees also have their own staffs, as do the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). (Congress created the latter in the 1970s.) These two offices provide in-depth analysis of the operations of federal agencies. The following sections focus only on the executive branch bureaucracies.

Cabinet departments

The cabinet departments, the largest administrative units in the federal bureaucracy, have responsibility for broad areas of government operations such as foreign policy (Department of State) and law enforcement (Department of Justice). The departments are organized hierarchically and include bureaus, divisions, offices, and agencies. The FBI, for example, is a bureau of the Justice Department and has 58 field offices throughout the country.

Independent agencies

Independent agencies are created by Congress and do not operate within the cabinet structure. The most important agencies include the CIA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the Small Business Administration (SBA). Independent agencies are often created by presidential direction; President John F. Kennedy's Peace Corps is an example. Regulatory commissions are also independent of cabinet departments. Many are run by boards whose members are appointed by the president for limited terms and confirmed by the Senate. They deal with a broad range of issues ranging from product safety to the licensing of nuclear power plants, and include such agencies as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the Federal Reserve Board, and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Government corporations

While often run like private businesses, government corporations may receive all or part of their operating capital from appropriations and are run by boards appointed by the president. The TVA, for example, provides electricity, operates recreational facilities, and manages flood control projects in large parts of the southeastern United States. Much of its income comes from the sale of electricity. On the other hand, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) relies heavily on congressional funding to supplement the contributions collected by affiliate radio and television stations during their fund drives. The U.S. Postal Service with almost 800,000 employees is the largest government corporation. Others include the FDIC, the Export-Import Bank, and the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (better known as Amtrak).