Chapter 2. Theories of Political Control of Bureaucracy

1. One relatively recent example of establishing a “firewall” between politics and administration was the switch from a commission form of government to one of a city manager in the city of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In 2005, amid concerns that elected politicians did not have the expertise to effectively run the city’s departments, the city put the item to a vote. The switch was overwhelmingly supported, with more than two thirds voting in favor of a city manager style of government. The goal was to improve both the ability of citizens to feel qualified to run for city council, and the management of city departments. Thus, the city of Cedar Rapids expected better democracy and better bureaucracy as a result of the switch.

2. Perhaps the most classic example of an iron triangle was the set of relationships that existed between key members of Congress, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the tobacco industry (including both tobacco growers and cigarette companies). This network managed to protect and promote the industry well into latter half of the 20th century, even in the face of mounting medical research on the hazards of smoking. 3. Lipsky’s findings on the challenges that street-level bureaucrats face seems to be reflected in the increased frustration with decisions made by individual police officers. With the advent of the use of body and dashboard cameras, citizens now have more ability to review those decisions. As officers become more accountable to their communities, police forces are required to improve training, as well as improve communication with the public. 4. Agency theory holds that as the principal increases its ability to hold the agent accountable, and also increases its ability to alter the agent’s behavior (i.e. street-level discretion is reduced). This is perhaps most clear in public K-12 education, where federal and state laws have increased the effectiveness of monitoring mechanisms for schools, and even for individual teachers. Proponents of these laws argue that teachers and school administrators have not been held accountable to the public, while opponents argue that the ability for teachers to apply their professional expertise has been removed.

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