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The Bureaucracy: The Real Government

8b. The Organization of the Bureaucracy

Reagan Cabinet
Along with the Vice President, the President's Cabinet members are his most important advisors. This picture shows President Reagan, Vice President Bush, and Cabinet members in the Oval Office.

Even the experts can't agree on the total number of federal government agencies, commissions, and departments.

Most estimates suggest there are probably more than 2,000 of these. They each have an area of specialization — some much broader than others — but their duties often overlap, making administration more difficult. To complicate things even more, many agencies have counterparts at the state and local level. Its size, complexity, and overlapping responsibilities leave the federal bureaucracy open to constant attempts to reorganize and streamline.

Congress has the power to create, organize, and disband all federal agencies. Most of them are under the control of the President, although few of them actually have direct contact with the White House. So, the bureaucracy has two masters — Congress and the President. The bureaucracy generally falls into four broad types: Cabinet departments, government corporations, independent agencies, and regulatory commissions

The Cabinet Departments

The 15 Cabinet departments are each headed by a Secretary who sits on the President's Cabinet. The exception is the Justice Department, which is headed by the Attorney General, who is also a member of the President's Cabinet. The Secretaries are responsible for directing the department's policy and for overseeing its operation. Cabinet secretaries are usually torn between their responsibilities as presidential advisers and heads of their departments.

Frances Perkins
As the first woman Cabinet member, Frances Perkins served for 12 years, helping draft legislation such as the Social Security Act and the first federal minimum wage laws.

Each has a special area of policy, although their responsibilities are still very broad. The organization of each is quite complex, but they have some things in common. All Secretaries have a Deputy or Undersecretary, as well as a host of Assistant Secretaries, who all direct major programs within the department.

Most departments are divided into bureaus, divisions, and sections. For example, the FBI lies within the domain of the Justice Department, and the Secret Service is currently within the Treasury Departmeny agency, but soon to be moved under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security .

Government Corporations

Government corporations do not belong to any department — they stand on their own. Probably the best-known government corporations are the United States Postal Service and Amtrak. They are different from other agencies in that they are businesses created by Congress, and they charge fees for their services. Like any other business, government corporations have private competition — such as Federal Express and United Parcel Service — and sometimes state competition — such as the New Jersey Transit Authority.

International Space Station
At the time of its creation, NASA was assumed by many to be a defense-related agency. Today, it brings nations together in highly publicized efforts like the International Space Station shown here.

Independent Agencies

Independent agencies closely resemble Cabinet departments, but they are smaller and less complex. Generally, they have narrower areas of responsibility than do Cabinet departments. Most of these agencies are not free from presidential control and are independent only in the sense that they are not part of a department.

Congress creates them as separate agencies for many reasons, practical as well as symbolic. For example, when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was established, many members of Congress assumed that it would be a part of the Department of Defense. However, it is an independent agency because the space program has many other purposes than the defense of the nation.

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms
The ATF is a division of the Department of the Treasury that regulates alcohol, tobacco, and firearms.

Regulatory Agencies

These agencies regulate important parts of the economy, making rules for large industries and businesses that affect the interests of the public. Because regulatory commissions are "watchdogs" that by their very nature need to operate independently, they are not part of a department, and the President does not directly control most of them. Each commission has from 5 to 11 members appointed by the President, but the President cannot remove them for the length of their terms in office.

Examples of these commissions are the Securities and Exchange Commission, which regulates the stock market, brokers, and investment practices. Another well-known commission is the Federal Reserve Board that governs the nation's monetary policy. The Environmental Protection Agency serves as a guardian over the nation's environment, making and enforcing standards for the industrial and commercial sectors.

With over 2,000 different agencies, the federal bureaucracy is almost certain to run into problems with organization, overlapping responsibilities, and efficiency. Almost every recent President has come into office determined to refashion and trim the bureaucracy. However, none has been able to make more than minor adjustments. Well-established agencies have lives of their own, and are difficult to change. Besides, the country has large, complex, needs requiring special attention. A large bureaucracy is a part of the government's attempt to meet those needs.

On the Web
Amtrak
Want to see the country the old-fashioned way? Take a train! Amtrak is a government corporation that runs trains all over the country, allowing passengers fast, easy travel. Check out the Amtrak website for fares and schedules.
NASA Homepage
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, according to its website, is an investment in America's future. Explore this incredible website, from its pages on space flight to women in NASA. Click on "other cool sites" for more neat stuff than you could visit in one day. Don't miss out on the Flash movie of NASA's vision or the webcasts, which can be viewed on Windows Media Player.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)
What happens if your bank goes bankrupt? You get your money back — if your bank is insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Since 1933, the FDIC has been keeping America's faith in its financial institutions alive. Take a look at the organization and browse its official website here.
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Homer Simpson makes the meltdown of a nuclear reactor in a power plant seem funny, but in reality it can cause worldwide devastation. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is responsible for making sure that power plants are safe from the time they are built to the time that they are shut down. Take a look at what they do at their official website.
The Securities and Exchange Commission
The stock market crash of 1929 crippled the U.S. economy and devastated the lives of millions of Americans. What did the government do to make sure that something like that never happens again? They founded the Securities and Exchange Commission, which oversees investment practices of American businesses. If you have an interest in the stock market, it's worth your time to wade through this official website.
Federal Trade Commission
You've seen the board game Monopoly, but did you know that real monopolies are usually illegal? The Federal Trade Commission makes sure that companies follow the law, use fair business practices, and don't deceive the consumer. They also protect consumers by investigating complaints and educating us about what to look out for. The FTC's official website makes for an interesting read for anyone who might do business in the U.S.
Consumer Protection
Are you getting your money's worth? Check here before you make a purchase to find out how you could be hoodwinked if you aren't careful.
DefenseLink — The U.S. Department of Defense
With the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, and the Navy under its auspices, the Department of Defense is the part of the government assigned to maintaining national security. Its official website has pages on such threats to the U.S. as weapons of mass destruction and anthrax, as well as online memorials to fallen soldiers, Olympic coverage, and much more.
Joint Chiefs of Staff
The head honchos of each military branch make up the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who advise the President on military matters. Find out about the composition and philosophy of the organization here.
The United States Department of Justice
Attorney General Janet Reno and her office are responsible for finding and prosecuting federal criminals. The official Department of Justice website is full of interesting information, including the FBI's most wanted list and pages on hot topics from school violence to the death penalty.
U.S. State Department
Even though only 1% of the national budget goes to international affairs, the State Department does some of the most publicized government-related work in the country. The same agency that represents the U.S. in the United Nations is responsible for negotiating trade agreements and also issuing passports and visas. Take a look at some of the State Department's recent projects at their official website.
United States Treasury Department
Show me the money! The U.S. Treasury Department monitors the government's bank accounts, prints money, and investigates tax evasion, among many other duties. Find out the answers to all your questions about one of the oldest offices in the U.S. government at their official website.
The New Administration
Every time a new President is elected, the President appoints a new Cabinet. Who are the chosen ones for President George W. Bush? Check them out, from John Ashcroft to Colin Powell, at this Washington Post web presentation. Read the biographies of Bush's top appointees, then watch the videos of their nomination announcements and other appearances.
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