POLITICS OCTOBER 25, 1943
There is a new whipping boy in America today, one that has succeeded "the interests," "Wall Street," "the railroads," "socialism" and all the other time-honored favorites of politicians and public alike. This new focal point of attack for all the ills of the body politic is "bureaucracy," personified in the unfortunate individual who happens to be the bureau's director, the "bureaucrat." The floors of both Houses of Congress have been ringing with increasing denunciations of this scapegoat; he is responsible for all the lacks in the war program, all the deficiencies in our domestic life, all the ills of our social and economic system. Someone has to be blamed: blame the bureaucrat, because he does not have to run for reelection, and, anyway, he has not been properly respectful to those who do have to run.
It seems trite to say that any large nation must have many administrative bureaus: the larger and more complex the civilization, the more bureaus are necessary for efficient governmental functioning. The War Department, the Navy Department, the State Department, are all "bureaus" in the large sense of that word, with each in turn subdivided into many smaller bureaus. These are accepted with very little question by the great majority of the American people; why, then, the increasing attack on "bureaucracy"? It is our purpose here to attempt to point out the reasons for this attack and to suggest several possible remedies. If the American people are to have the unity and the national understanding so essential to an effective program of war or of peace, it is imperative that we comprehend the role of administrative bureaus in our government.
Bureaus Are, in Essence, Contrary to the Individualistic Sprit of the American People. - To a nation that has been busy killing Indians, conquering a vast continent and developing the resources of that continent, increasing control of individual activity is most distasteful. Now, however, our great natural frontiers have gone. Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett would seem incongruous indeed in contemporary urbanized America. The tremendous developments in transportation and communication have made the United States of 1943 much smaller and more interrelated than were the original thirteen colonies. Increasingly has it become necessary for each American, for his own protection and liberty, to limit his traditional freedom of action out of regard for the rights of his fellow Americans. This has meant increasing regulation and control. End, as a result, increasing "bureaucracy."
Depression brought an intensification of this trend; stepped up the tempo even more. It is only natural that the landlord who has always charged all the tenant would bear for his house or apartment should bitterly resent rent control by the Office of Price Administration. "Damned bureaucrats back in Washington!" The farmer who has counted on buying some new machinery whenever the crops brought in enough to warrant the expenditure runs smack up against the regulations of the War Production Board, which tells him that he cannot buy a new tractor, no matter how much extra money he has this year. "Damned bureaucrats back in Washington" are responsible again. Limiting of individual freedom of action, so contrary to tradition but so essential to an all-out war effort, is the first reason advanced for the onslaught on our federal bureaus.
Much of the Attack Is Against the New Deal.- It has been mentioned that bureaus multiplied in number and increased in importance with the national attack on depression, and still more with that on fascism. Both of these steps took place during the Roosevelt administration; consequently the attack has not only been on bureaus as such but on New Deal bureaus. This phase, incidentally, has not been limited to the Republican Party: its strength has been increased by the help of many Democrats, lukewarm toward the New Deal to begin with and now bitterly in opposition. The combination is well illustrated by the alliance of Republicans and certain Democrats against the domestic branch of the Office of War Information, the first element gleeful at the killing of another Democratic agency, the latter incensed by a publication of that agency which disturbed the traditional racial stratification. Now, with the increasing possibility that Mr. Roosevelt will run for a fourth term, the opponents of his domestic policy are redoubling their efforts to discredit the many bureaus established during his three terms, in the hope that the American people will thus refuse to return him to office.
Bureaus Of end Special-Interest Groups. - It is a truism that vested interests always oppose social change. This statement might be projected even further: farseeing vested interests oppose even the thought of a change which might menace their interests, and they oppose any governmental agency that has the appearance of stepping into their own particular province. The Home Owners' Loan Corporation was thus certain to face the strong opposition of real-estate interests the country over. The Farm Security Administration was equally sure to run up against large farming interests throughout the nation. When the Office of Price Administration suggested that the American people should know what they were buying, and mentioned grade labeling, the advertising interests from Seattle to Miami bellowed "Communistic." The Securities and Exchange Commission naturally was bitterly fought by banking and investment interests, and now it appears likely that the latter are winning the battle. It is somewhat incongruous, however, to see the final stab given to the dying National Youth Administration by educational leaders throughout America.
Part of the Opposition Is Congressional Resentment Against Increased Executive Authority. - This is closely related to, but not identical with, certain phases of the two preceding points.. Congressional resentment toward presidential power is not by any means a partisan proposition;. Nor is it necessarily just an anti-New Deal manifestation.. Many serious and thoughtful members of both Houses have been concerned by what they honestly fear is a break away from our traditional check-and- balance form of government. When they see some administrative bureaus assuming unauthorized' power, this fear is; intensified. A less worthy motive is that many legislators have been unable to- have their patronage ambitions satisfied by bureau heads.
This cleavage between executive and legislative branches of the national government is, of course, not new. It has existed in many administrations, especially during the latter years of those administrations. Cleveland,, Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson and Hoover all faced this situation, albeit reluctantly. President Roosevelt was granted increasing emergency powers first during the depression, and then again after Pearl Harbor, The inevitable reaction has been setting in, and the poor bureaucrat has been forced to suffer as a result.
Genuine. Blunders and Mistakes of the Bureaus Have Contributed to the Attack. - Governmental agencies, like all social institutions, have certain inherent weaknesses.- They tend to magnify their respective jobs and to overexpand as a result. They tend to perpetuate themselves rather than to emphasize the jobs which they were originally created to do. They build up their own vested interests in the form of employees who naturally wish to maintain their positions. They have a tendency to lag behind the times. There is always present the danger of losing personal touch and becoming mechanistic and ritualistic in performing their functions. These weaknesses are inherent in all human institutions, religious, economic and educational, and political ones are certainly no exception. Many honest critics of our bureaus today have seen these weaknesses of governmental agencies without taking into consideration their need and their accomplishments.
Emergency and wartime agencies have all the above weaknesses plus, some additional ones. Many of them were established in great haste, without a clearly thought-out policy and course of action. This has made for duplication of effort, for slowness of action, for inconsistency and for waste in certain instances. Moreover, many square pegs have: found their way into round holes, and poorly placed personnel has furnished a most advantageous point of attack for critics, honest and otherwise.
The question naturally arises, "What are we going to do about it?" Bureaus are necessary, in spite of the clamor of cheap political opposition, narrow sectional opposition and blind ignorant opposition. However, neither partisanship, sectionalism nor ignorance should prevent us from doing our best to- cure- these evils without killing the patient. They are absolutely essential to the all-out war effort; the- guns and planes and tanks will be of little avail if we have unchecked inflation, undirected use of manpower, squandering of our resources and limitless profiteering on the home front. Even victory itself will be hollow unless we have preserved the essentials of the democracy which we are fighting so hard to save. What then are we going to do about it?
I should like to suggest the following steps, not by any means as a complete program, but as a starting point from which we can work to make our national government function more effectively in this crisis. Many other steps will immediately suggest themselves, but these would appear to be the first ones.
1. There should be constant and continual congressional evaluation of the many administrative bureaus. Such evaluation should be individual in nature and not part of a mass attack on "bureaucracy." In so far as possible (and it may not be possible), this evaluation and ensuing action should be non-political in nature, with partisanship being subordinated entirely to the best interests of the American people. The mechanics for working out this suggestion pose many problems; however, unless the trend is in this direction, increasingly serious consequences will follow.
2. When an agency has fulfilled the task for which it was created and when that task no longer faces the government, the bureau should be immediately abolished. On the other hand, when it has been conclusively demonstrated that there is a need for the expansion of an agency, that need should be portrayed and adequate appropriations made for such expansion. The ]oh to he done should be the sole criterion for action, whether that action be liquidation or expansion.
3. The merit system should prevail throughout all administrative bureaus in the hiring, promotion and dismissal of personnel. If this steps on. time-honored political prerogatives, so be it. Ability rather than partisanship should hold sway. Where investigation reveals abuses, the responsible personnel should bear the brunt, no matter whose toes are trodden on in the process. Incompetent personnel should be weeded out without regard for sentiment, service to the party or any other consideration. It is hardly necessary to go so far as to demand five years' previous experience in the field of work involved. The much-maligned professor may be better trained for a particular administrative job than the much-praised "business man," heretical though it may be to say this.
4. Constant consultation between bureau heads and congressional committees would probably lessen much of the friction and misunderstanding which now exist. There is little doubt that in the past many agency executives have been careless on this point. This is not to suggest that such a relationship should be political or in the nature of soothing congressional feelings; simply that a working relationship, based upon cooperative understanding, will be for the best interests of all.
5. In the evaluation of old bureaus and the creation of new ones there should be rigid delineation of authority and a full and accurate understanding of the duties to be performed. Without this, duplication is inevitable, with resulting conflict, jealousy and waste. Much of the criticism that has been heaped upon our bureaus during the past six months has been caused by this duplication, and yet it is one of the easier problems to eliminate.
6. Federal bureaus inevitably mean increased centralization of authority. This trend, however, should not be permitted to develop without adequate consideration for the many sectional and local differences and diversities in our national life. Where regional offices are established, extra care should be devoted to see that so far, as possible that office has autonomy to cope with problems peculiarly local in character. Furthermore, the personnel should be thoroughly familiar with local conditions, although it need not necessarily be chosen only from local applicants.
These steps, I submit, while general in character and while certainly easier to suggest than to put into effect constitute a minimum program for making our governmental bureaus function more efficiently. Bureaus we must have all of their evils are by no means inevitable. A democratic form of government will continue to have its three broad divisions of executive, legislative and judicial; this form will be dynamic, however, necessitating constant efforts at preserving equilibrium, not of preserving the status quo. The importance of national administrative agencies will increase, not decrease; we shall not go back to the "good old days" of laissez-faire, no matter how much the reactionaries would like us to do so. Those of us who are interested in liberal and progressive government have an important and difficult task ahead; the task not to criticize only, but to help our form of government to function at its optimum. In this functioning, bureaus will be important; let us work to see that we have as many bureaus as we need, but no more; that we have as much personnel as we need, but no more; that that personnel be as well trained and efficient as possible; that we counteract partisan and selfish attacks on these national agencies by positive action, not negative.
George E. Outland was a Democratic Congressman from California from 1943-1947.