the Video Unit 8
and Discussion (30 minutes)
Before viewing the video, discuss the following questions:
- Discuss the question, "What is a bureaucracy?"
- Discuss the control that presidents may exercise over the national
- Still thinking about the federal bureaucracy, what is the difference
between the Supreme court's opinions in Myers v. U.S. and
Humphrey's Executor v. U.S.?
- What changes can be made in governmental bureaucracies to improve
Watch the Video
(30 minutes) and Discuss (30 minutes) [Top]
The video includes three segments:
1. When Disaster Strikes: FEMA to the Rescue
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was originally organized
in the 1970s as the primary federal agency that responds rapidly
to natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods.
During these emergencies, it acts as a hub for coordinating recovery
efforts and providing quick assistance to those affected. FEMA is
one among many federal agencies that serve citizens through regional
offices. By looking at how FEMA coordinators respond to real emergencies
one can get a better sense of how government agencies actively serve
- Discuss the portrait of FEMA bureaucrats presented in the video.
Do these government workers match our general image of a bureaucrat?
- Describe other government workers who do not match the stereotype
of a bureaucrat.
2. Birth of the EPA
The birth of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a story
about how the federal government can respond to the needs and desires
of society. The EPA was formed during the Nixon Administration after
the President's Advisory Council on Executive Reorganization recommended
the formation of an agency that could address growing public concerns
over pollution. The 2000 employees under the original EPA have now
grown to over 18,000 bureaucrats located in 10 regional offices and
17 laboratories across the country. Why the growth? The EPA is an
example of a bureaucracy that was created and grew as a direct result
of public demands for action.
- Why was the EPA created?
- What role does leadership play in creating an effective bureaucracy?
- Can any bureaucracy operate effectively without clear political
guidance as to what goals it should pursue?
3. A Dollar Earned: Or Is It?
Like many young people before him, 12-year-old Brian Glennon planned
to make some extra money during summer by working as an umpire for
$10 a game from the Darien Youth Club baseball league in Illinois.
But after receiving an anonymous complaint, the Illinois Department
of Labor told the league to stop paying child umpires because the
practice violated laws prohibiting children under 14 being paid for
work. While the general public was outraged at the Department of Labor's
decision, the administrators felt they had no choice but to act against
the youth league. Eventually the law was changed to allow the practice
but in the intervening period many people blamed the state bureaucracy
for acting as scrooge.
- Why did the state department of labor move to prohibit children
from serving as umpires?
- Did the department have any options?
- Looking at the compromise that was reached in the legislature,
has it placed the department of labor in a position to enforce
and Discussion (30 minutes) [Top]
Try the Critical
Thinking activity for Unit 8. This is a good activity to
use with your students, too.
1. Why Can't the DMV Be More Like McDonalds? (10 minutes)
A popular myth is that bureaucracies are only found in governments.
But in reality most, if not all, private organizations have bureaucracies
too. This is because they also employ people with specific job titles
and responsibilities, who work in a hierarchy of authority and within
established procedures for operations and governance. In an influential
article entitled, "What Government Agencies Do and Why They
Do It," social scientist James Q. Wilson compares McDonalds
to a city Department of Motor Vehicles office to help us understand
the differences between public and private sector bureaucracies.
After examining the synopsis of Wilson's argument, discuss how government
bureaucracies resemble private bureaucracies. Discuss whether you
think public bureaucracies should look and operate even more like
private bureaucracies or that there are valid and important reasons
for the differences.
A typical Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office has long
lines that are slow-moving. Customers are often unsure about what
line they are supposed to be in, and may get to the front only to
find out they must wait in another line. Often, the clerks at the
DMV must work with outdated equipment, and they frequently seem
harried and dissatisfied with their jobs. Overall, the atmosphere
is tense and unpleasant.
In contrast, the typical McDonalds fast-food restaurant has
several short lines that are fast-moving. Customers can quickly
scan the choices before them on a menu that is clear and attractive.
The workers are polite and efficient, and the restaurant is immaculate.
Overall, the atmosphere is friendly and good-natured.
What is the difference between these two organizations? Again, it
is not that the DMV is a bureaucracy and McDonalds is not. On the
contrary, both are bureaucracies with extensive rules and clear
lines of authority. In fact, McDonalds regulates every aspect of
its operation through its 600-page operations manual. Nor is it
because the average line workers at McDonalds make more in salary
than the average workers at the DMV. Instead, the opposite is true.
As Wilson explains, the crucial difference between the two organizations
is that the DMV is a government bureaucracy (in this case state government),
while McDonalds is a private-sector bureaucracy. Unlike private
bureaucracies, government bureaucracies must operate under
three important constraints:
Do all government bureaucracies have to resemble the DMV described
above? Not necessarily. Government bureaucracies at the national,
state, and local level have experimented with incentives to deliver
services more efficiently. These experiments include awarding
employees bonuses for good work records, empowering line and
lower management employees to make innovations in their local
operations, and creating customer feedback forms to hear suggestions
from those who rely on their services. Evidence suggests that
many of these reforms, such as those developed under the Government
Performance and Results Act, have had some positive results, such
as streamlining procedures, cutting costs, and increasing "customer" satisfaction.
- Government bureaucracies cannot lawfully retain for their members' private
benefit the earnings of the organization. In other words, the workers
don't share in any profits generated by the organization. When private
firms make a yearly profit, part of that profit will often return
to the workers, or at least the managers, in the form of
bonuses or stock options.
- Government bureaucracies cannot allocate the factors of production
in accordance with the preferences of the organization's administrators.
For example, government agencies don't have total freedom and
authority to take some of their profits or remaining budget
resources and independently arrange to buy new equipment,
or to hire or fire existing contractors. Moreover, government
bureaucracies must hire, promote, and fire workers in accordance
with strict and detailed rules that are created externally
to the organization. These rules are usually the result of political decisions,
not bureaucratic ones.
- Government bureaucracies must promote goals that are not of
the organization's own choosing. Control over agency goals,
revenues, and factors of production is vested in entities
external to the organization including legislatures, courts,
executives, and interest groups.
In other cases, politicians have decided to "privatize"
some traditional government functions such as trash collection and
prison administration in order to promote efficiencies that are typically
associated with private bureaucracies. These programs, however, have
had mixed results. In most cases, privatized trash collection has
worked. But there have been serious problems with private firms
that try to earn a profit by running prisons. In some cases, prisoners
were crowded into facilities that were designed to hold fewer people,
and some prison officials cut back on daily food rations to cut costs.
In a few cases, prisoners rioted to protest the inhumane conditions
and, as a consequence, some governments have concluded that privatized
prisons don't work.
2. Is the Public Bureaucracy Incompetent and If Yes, Can It Be
Fixed? (20 minutes)
Think about a bad experience that you have had with a public bureaucracy
(national, state, or local). Was the experience the product of incompetent
or unresponsive employees, or was it a reflection of public employees
caught between contradictory but mandatory policies? Discuss how you
would design the system to work more effectively.
Read the following Readings from Unit 9 to prepare for next week's
- Introduction-The Courts: Our Rule of Law
- Tocqueville, Democracy in America: "Judicial Power in
the United States, and Its Influence on Political Society"
- Federalist Papers: "Federalist No. 78"
- Marbury v. Madison
- Cherokee Nation v. Georgia
Read next week's Topic Overview.
You may want to have your students do the post-viewing activities:
Why Can't the DMV Be More Like McDonalds? and Is the Public Bureaucracy
Incompetent and If Yes, Can It Be Fixed? They are provided for you
as blackline masters in the Appendix of the print guide.