37 Module Introduction

The Bureaucracy: Outputs of Government

Module Introduction

Topic Covered

  • The role of the bureaucracy
  • The structure of the federal bureaucracy
  • The function and output of the federal bureaucracy

The federal government is tasked with an enormous responsibility. The U.S. Constitution dictates that:

  1. Congress makes the law;
  2. the President executes the law; and
  3. the federal judiciary interprets the law

This is no easy feat. With a diverse populace, (1) estimated at some 326 million-persons. (33) spread out over expansive, geographical bounds, policymaking for the United States can be complex to say the least. The federal bureaucracy exists to remedy such complexity.

Housed as an arm of the executive branch, the federal bureaucracy exists to implement the policies of the federal government. In this sense, the federal bureaucracy touches every aspect of American lives. The most visible feature of this overwhelming presence can be found in the fifteen cabinet departments. Nearly four times the size of George Washington’s original group of advisors, today’s presidential cabinet denotes the fact that Americans are, in fact, demanding citizens. Americans have high expectations of the federal government and insist that the government spare no expense in providing vital, public goods. This demanding nature can also be captured in the existence of the more than 200 independent executive branch agencies, which, likewise, carry out very important functions. For instance, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), serves to regulate air and water quality, among other critical environmental needs, while the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) runs the civilian space program. Like cabinet leadership, administrators of these agencies are direct reports to the president himself.

Contrary to cabinet departments and independent agencies, regulatory commissions, like that of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), are independent of the White House, as they possess a special legal status from Congress, backed by the legal weight and interpretation of the Supreme Court. This means that while presidents may nominate individuals to commission leadership, they may not, however, dismiss them for political reasons. Concerning the latter, this is a very important piece of the bureaucratic puzzle, as regulatory commissions are imbued with quasi-legislative and judicial power, making and adjudicating laws within their realm of influence. (1) For example, in 1972 the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued regulations requiring that all billboard and magazine advertisements for cigarettes contain a warning from the surgeon general’s office about the health and hazards of smoking.” (84) Violators of commission rules, like such, are subject to judgement in court-like hearings before commission officials; thus, yielding to the bureaucracy a significant degree of power, perhaps, too much power in the opinion of some. To this end, President William Howard Taft’s supposed saying that “ presidents come and go, but the Supreme Court goes on forever,” may be fitting and even transposed to read “ presidents come and go, but the Bureaucracy goes on forever .” (85, 1)

Learning Outcomes

  1. Students will be able to articulate an understanding of the individual in society.
  2. Students will be able to think critically about institutions, cultures, and behaviors in their local and/or national environment.
  3. Students will be able to think critically about institutions, cultures, and behaviors of the peoples of the world.
  4. Students will develop a historical context for understanding current issues and events
  5. Students will develop a greater understanding of world events. (1)


Upon completion of this module, the student will be able to:

  • Identify the role of the federal bureaucracy.
  • Describe the structure and function of the federal bureaucracy.
  • Describe the scope and power of the federal bureaucracy.

Readings & Resources:

Supplemental Material/Resources

(Note: This material, in the media form of online videos, is considered supplemental and thus is not used for assessment purposes.)

Assignments & Learning Activities

  • Review Readings & Resources
  • Review Module 6 Learning Unit
  • Participate in Discussion
  • Submit Final Project Outline
  • Take Quiz 6


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