HGov: Presidential Bureaucratic Control


Presidents today have greater responsibilities than their predecessors and this increase in responsibilities expands their opportunities to exert power. The range of these responsibilities are so broad that presidents must rely on staffers who may or may not act in the president’s best interests. The modern president’s recurring problem is to find some way of making sure that aides serve the interests of the presidency above all others. Additionally, the number of bureaucratic agencies have more than doubled, compounding the problem of presidential control over subordinates.

Presidential appointees are a valuable asset, but they also pose a problem. Because they are so numerous, the president has difficulty controlling them. The nature of the control problem varies with the type of appointee. For example, the advantage of having the advice of policy experts are offset by the fact that these experts often have little political experience and tend to exaggerate the importance of their particular policy interests. As a result, their proposals are sometimes impractical or politically unacceptable. On the other hand, top political appointees while adept at politics, they have a tendency to act too independently. White House Office assistants, for example, tend naturally to skew information in a direction that supports the course of action they favor.

The problem of presidential control is even more severe in the case of appointees who work outside the White House in the departments and agencies. The loyalty of agency heads and cabinet secretaries often is split between a desire to promote the president’s goals and an interest in boosting themselves of the agencies they lead. Lower level appointees within the departments and agencies pose a different type of problem. The president rarely, if ever, sees them. They are typically political novices, most have fewer than two years of government experience and they are not very knowledgeable about policy. These appointees are often captured by the agency in which they work because they depend on the agency’s career bureaucrats for advice.

1) Read Chapter 12 pp.397-409



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