PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION IN AMERICA:
THE EXCEPTIONALISM OF A HYBRID BUREAUCRACY
By Fred W. Riggs
ABSTRACT. American public administration is truly exceptional and has limited relevance to the solution of administrative problems in other countries. Nevertheless, it is so widely imitated and viewed as a model that anyone studying Public Administration needs to understand why the American system is exceptional and why its practices are so often irrelevant in other countries. Such an understanding requires a comparative analysis of different regimes based on the same constitutional principles -- i.e. the separation of executive, legislative and judicial powers -- and the identification of the peculiarly American structure of a hybrid bureaucracy. See (Riggs, 1994c). (1)
A CONSTITUTIONAL DILEMMA International comparisons reveal that public bureaucracies are not only instruments for the management of public policies but they always play a political role and sometimes become politically dominant. This contradicts a widely held view, especially in America, that politics and administration should be sharply separated from each other. Unfortunately, this goal is not easy to achieve in practice. Consider the fact that all modern polities need a well-organized bureaucracy able to cope effectively with the formidable issues generated by industrialization, globalization and ethnic diversity. Such bureaucracies always exercise important political influence but, to preserve democracy, they must be willing to serve under the direction of leaders who are not bureaucrats, even when they lack the technical knowledge possessed by appointed officials. Politicians, moreover, can succeed in managing their public servants only if they are coherently and effectively organized and they benefit from a constitutional system that enhances their legitimacy and helps them coordinate their efforts.
Unfortunately, truly competent bureaucrats frustrated by incompetent rulers (whether elected or hereditary) struggling with dysfunctional ground rules are able and willing, under military leaders, to seize power and rule unconstitutionally. Consequently, to preserve democratic openness and freedom, it is necessary to design constitutional systems that enable political leaders to retain effective control over their public servants, while optimizing the capacity of state employees to understand and cope with the major problems generated by modernity. It is easier for parliamentary regimes to achieve this goal than it is for presidentialist systems, a fact demonstrated by the higher rate of survival of cabinet governments by contrast with those governed by elected presidents. The remarkable exception is that of the United States, a fact that requires explanation if we are to understand why the separation-of-powers principles have undermined democracy in so many other countries.
The most exceptional feature of the United States political system can be seen in its ability to maintain control throughout its history over a reasonably effective administrative system. Unfortunately, in other regimes based on the separation-of-powers constitutional principle, the established bureaucracies have been powerful enough both to prevent reforms that would make them more efficient; and also, during crises, to seize power and create military dictatorships. The same constitutional design has also handicapped elected political leaders striving to maintain their political power. An understanding of this phenomenon helps us explain the American exception. It appears to be due to a hybrid mixture of career specialists and patronage generalists, something not replicated elsewhere. The study of this exception also helps us understand not only the American administrative system, but also why this model is so irrelevant for the administrative problems facing many other countries. (2)
BUREAUCRATIC POLITIES. Failure to maintain effective control over a modernizing bureaucracy often leads to a political collapse and the seizure of power by public officials, led by military officers who, alone, have the requisite ability to use violence effectively. One of the first and most visible examples took place in Siam (Thailand) in 1932 (Riggs, 1966). Although the organizers of this coup promulgated a parliamentary form of democratic government, they retained real power in a cabinet staffed by coup members (Riggs, 1981). (3) They used the forms of a pliant elected assembly half of whose members were appointed officials -- to legitimize their governance in the eyes of outside observers, mainly the imperial powers of France and Great Britain. They also won the support of traditionalists by retaining the King as a ceremonial head of state. (4)
During subsequent years, this basic scenario has been repeated, with variations, in other countries. Efforts to create constitutional democracies on the ashes of collapsed monarchies and, in the new states, on the ruins of industrial empires, have led to the establishment of bureaucratic polities in many countries. Although led by military officers who, alone, command the means of violence needed to seize power, these regimes could not survive without the support of civil servants whose knowledge of financial management and public administration enable them to create top-down structures of government that are able, at least in the short run, to maintain the independence of their states in a precarious and chaotic world (Riggs 1982).
Since bureaucratic domination (rule by military officers) is an inherently unstable form of government, most military dictatorships have not lasted for long; but as often as not, the collapse of a ruling group merely led to a repeat performance as a new coup group seized power. Bureaucrats as rulers find themselves hard pressed to stay in power and they often resort to arbitrary measures and violence. They also welcome external assistance designed to improve their administrative performance since it promises to enhance their grip on power (Riggs, 1994a/b). Eventually, however, powerful social forces and movements have evolved around the world that erode authoritarian rule and enable many countries to establish (or re-establish) democratic governance. This happened in the Thai case in 1991 when, after a long period of military rule and episodes of political reform, a parliamentary government was effectively established and has persisted with non-violent replacement of civilian governments until the present day. (5)
The Thai case was instructive because it illustrates a widespread phenomenon: all the regimes in the new states created on the ruins of empires aspired to become democracies, and typically started out with a popularly elected regime. Subsequently, however, most of these regimes collapsed and were replaced by bureaucratic polities dominated by military officers. Whether they were established at the dawn of independence by agreement with a collapsing imperial power, or after a period of domestic authoritarianism under military domination, governance based on representative institutions in these countries is unlikely to last. During crises, they cannot cope effectively with acute problems; a group of military officers, supported by civil servants and by deeply disaffected popular forces, often seize power. (6)
The institutional design of these democracies correlates with the success of military coups (Riggs, 1993, 1997a/b). Significantly, all third world regimes that adopted the American separation-of-powers system experienced at least one catastrophic breakdown, i.e. suspension of the constitution, abolition of the legislature, and rule by appointed officials, led by military officers. The only presidentialist regime never to experience such a breakdown -- even during major crises such as a great civil war, depression, and foreign wars -- was the United States. Because the U.S. is highly industrialized and has had its constitution for over two centuries, we might have predicted this difference.
However, the significance of this finding becomes apparent only after one discovers that third world regimes following parliamentary models often survived, though certainly not always. Confirmation of the tendency of parliamentary regimes to outlive presidentialist ones has subsequently received confirmation in more the rigorous statistical analyses offered by (Przeworski et al, 1996). See also (Linz, 1990a/b). To explain this pattern, we need to explain why presidentialist regimes are so vulnerable and also account for the American exception. This exception colors the thinking of foreign observers as well as American political scientists.
ATTRACTIONS OF PRESIDENTIALISM. Because the American administrative system is widely admired and emulated in developing countries, their leaders claim that if they followed this example, they could create a successful democracy. The striking success of the United States as a wealthy industrialized nation and as an exemplar for democratic government easily accounts for the uncritical admiration of foreign observers. Moreover, the ambitious leaders of revolutionary or reform movements in new states are also attracted to the American model because it legitimizes their personal aspirations, especially if they think they will be elected to the presidency.
American advisers often contribute to this illusion by promoting the export of familiar practices they view as widely applicable. Impressionable leaders in client states tend to accept the advice offered by American advisers, especially when it is accompanied by a variety of attractive fringe benefits. . Moreover, American advisers are pleased when people in other countries seek their advice and, since they typically lack the historical and comparative perspective needed to understand the essential uniqueness and irrelevance of public administration in America to the problems faced by other countries, it is understandable that they often promote the transfer of familiar bureaucratic structures based on the American experience. (7)
A deeper comparative and historical analysis might well persuade them that, although certain administrative practices have been quite successful in America, the conditions that made this possible are unique and cannot be replicated elsewhere. In order to understand why this is true we need to take into account the special problems and risks faced by any would-be democracy that adopts the American separation-of-powers constitutional design, and also consider the historical events that produced bureaucratic adaptations in the U.S. that were not possible in other countries organized on similar constitutional principles.
Admittedly, the greater viability of parliamentarist vs. presidentialist regimes is a controversial finding rejected by most American Political Scientists. Although they may well be aware of the catastrophic history of other presidentialist regimes, it is easy enough to rationalize them as due to economic, cultural or social differences while ignoring the institutional factors that, I believe, are primarily responsible. Consider, also, that viability is not the same as effectiveness -- to say that a system survives longer is not to say that it is better. Just as we may expect higher performance from a very complicated car but longer life from a simpler one, so the fusion of power under parliamentarism may enable such regimes to last longer than more complex and otherwise preferable systems based on the separation of powers. Many comparativists view parliamentarism as an essentially simpler or more rudimentary type of constitutional design than one organized on the separation of powers principles. (8)
If one accepts the proposition that presidentialist regimes are inherently fragile and likely to collapse, then it becomes necessary to explain the American exception. If the separation-of-powers structure produces internally conflicted regimes likely to succumb to military rule during a time of severe crisis, how can one explain the long-term survival of such a system in the U.S.?
THE AMERICAN EXCEPTION. The exceptionalist argument claims that America is so different from other countries --geographically, culturally, economically, socially, religiously, historically --that it cannot be compared (Lipset, 1996). However, every country in the world is unique in some respects that distinguish it from every other country. To explain differences, we need to identify relevant variables that apply to different countries, starting with those that are easiest to identify and where more or less plausible cause/effect sequences can be found -- for example size permits geographic comparisons between large and small countries; demographic distinctions involve population statistics; degrees of ethnic homogeneity/heterogeneity may be compared
Among the variables that can be compared, an important distinction involves the relation between elected assemblies and the heads of government in a democracy. (9) In some democracies, the head of government is accountable to parliament and can be discharged by a vote of no confidence, but in others s/he is elected for a fixed term and cannot be discharged by such a vote. There are, of course, marginal or hybrid cases, such as that of the French Fifth Republic, which may, perhaps, fall between the dichotomous extremes. Following conventional usage, the former system is parliamentarist, and the latter is presidentialist. Note that, to reduce ambiguity, I use "parliamentary" to characterize the elected assembly in parliamentarist regimes; and "presidential" for properties of the president in presidentialist systems.
It is important to distinguish between whole systems and the parts of a system, especially the most notable part that gives its name to the system. No doubt, there are other variables that cut across these systemic categories. For example, the distinction between proportional representation (PR) and non-proportional voting systems based on single-member districts can apply to both presidentialist and parliamentarist systems. However, I see it as a secondary property, and it seems clear that although PR can strengthen parliamentarist regimes, it can also undermine presidentialist ones. This means, of course, that one cannot evaluate the significance of such a distinction without reference to the type of system in which it is applied. This notion underlines the importance of my earlier comments about the applicability of specific American practices to countries where they might be exported, as also to the relevance of foreign experience to the U.S. -- a point illustrated below in my comments on the Pendleton Act. The point is that a practice, which works well in one type of regime, may prove harmful in another.
Applying this principle, it seems clear that one can explain differences in the performance of a basic regime type only by making comparisons among those that follow the same basic design feature. To explain the American exception, we need to find significant differences between the U.S. and other polities that follow the same separation-of-powers rule. Comparing the American system with parliamentary regimes produces inconclusive results. For example, one cannot assess the significance of a multi-party system produced by PR electoral rules by comparing this practice in different regime types B its true importance can be determined only within the context of presidentialist or of parliamentarist systems. I believe, in this case, that PR is quite compatible with parliamentarism and may even strengthen it, whereas in presidentialist systems, PR undermines their viability.
When we compare the U.S. with other presidentialist regimes, we find that one of the most important differences may be found in the fact that the American system remains oligarchic whereas other such systems have often sponsored more equalitarian rules B including PR and compulsory voting The point is that majoritarianism in single-member districts excludes many minorities from political representation. It also contributes to the maintenance of a centripetal two-party system that leads competing candidates to seek support from undecided votes in the center of the political spectrum. This tendency not only leads to moderation that contributes to regime stability, but it also alienates voters further to the right or left who, therefore, decide not to vote. One might add that similarities between the competing parties also bore many potential voters whose apathy leads them not to vote. The typically low electoral turnout in America is, therefore, one of the causes of the oligarchic nature of this system.
Another cause can be seen in the dynamics of campaign funding. The presidentialist system compels Congress to make many policy decisions that, under parliamentarist principles, are decided by the Cabinet and top bureaucrats. Practically speaking, this means that a congress (any legislative body in a presidentialist system) needs to disperse political responsibility to many committees and sub-committees -- something that does not happen in parliamentarist regimes. The result is that special interests seeking legislative favors have a strong financial incentive to support candidates who will approve their requests. A pyramidal effect extends this dynamic to the highest offices, making the candidates for president especially vulnerable to the prospects for generous funding without which, of course, they would no doubt lose to their rivals. A vicious circle aggravates this dynamic despite the sincere efforts of some members of congress to promote campaign-funding reform. The outcome, however, is that campaign finance in America is not only a huge factor in elections, but it results, inescapably, in special interest favoritism that accentuates the country's oligarchic dynamics. The regime's stability can be attributed to the interlocking interests America's top politicians and corporate elite, both of which are united in their determination to perpetuate the system.
Democratizing pressures have led many other presidentialist regimes to adopt PR and/or to impose compulsory voting. One expected result has been a great increase in voter turnout. An important consequence has also been political polarization. Centrifugal parties, pulling away from the center toward the political extremes, generate high levels of public interest and heightened emotions. It is not possible to provide more specific information here, but supporting evidence can be found in (Linz and Valenzuela, 1994) although the case studies in that volume do not explicitly focus on these variables. Additional evidence for this unconventional and controversial conclusion can be found in (Riggs, 1986, 1988 and 1994c) and I shall say no more about it here except to point out that because even the scholars who are most critical of the American constitutional system usually ignore this point they typically compare the American system with parliamentary regimes rather than with other presidentialist systems: see, for example, (Hardin, 1989; Linz, 1990a,b and 1994; Robinson, 1985; and Sundquist, 1992).
POWER AND PERFORMANCE. Here, in order to focus attention on American Public Administration, let us consider how the structure of a country's bureaucracy affects the ability of a democracy to survive. Concretely, by contrast with almost all other presidentialist regimes, appointed officials, headed by military officers, have never seized power in the U.S. This may be the most striking difference between the American experience and that of other presidentialist (separation-of-powers) constitutional systems. To explain this American exception we need to consider two variables: bureaucratic power and performance. In general, these variables are positively correlated: the more powerful a bureaucracy, the greater its capacity to administer. (10) However, there is a ceiling in this relationship.
When bureaucratic power grows above the capacity of political leaders to maintain control, they are able to seize power during a time of severe crisis. Since this is a reciprocal relationship, one might say, instead, that when the ability of a regime to control its bureaucracy drops below a certain level, it courts disaster in the form of a coup leading to the imposition of bureaucratic domination. Moreover, the lack of effective controls by non-bureaucratic institutions destroys a regime' s administrative capabilities. Consequently, uncontrolled bureaucrats in power are especially vulnerable to corruption, laziness, and ignorance. These failings ultimately destroy the capacity of any dominant bureaucracy to govern effectively and leads to regime instability, often taking the form of a counter-coup whereby rival intra-bureaucratic cliques contend for power, but sometimes leading to popular movements that, perhaps with international support, lead to a restoration of democratic governance. (Riggs, 1991).
In all democracies, political control over the bureaucracy centers on an elected assembly and a responsible head of government. However, I believe the fusion of powers in a parliamentarist regime enables it to manage a more powerful bureaucracy than any presidentialist (separation-of- powers) system. This is simply because the unity of authority principle inherent in any cabinet (parliamentarist) system of government permits more effective control over a bureaucracy than does the separation-of-powers (presidentialist) principle. From the bureaucratic perspective, disunity at the top often confuses and frustrates officials, undermining their morale and ability to coordinate their work. This is scarcely a new idea -- see, for example, (Rosenbloom, 1983, Kaufman, 1981, and Newland, 1987). Nevertheless, the deeper implications of this structure were not appreciated, even by John Rohr whose superb analysis of the implications of a separation-of-powers constitutional framework for American public administration suffers from its lack of comparisons, especially with other presidentialist regimes (Rohr, 1986).
Disunity at the top has major costs. Conflict between branches (magnified by clashes between the components of each branch) hampers effective administration. It also blocks policy-making, as we know from the frequent gridlocks that occur even in the United States where oligarchic practices make political decision making easier than in other presidentialist regimes. Study of the experience of presidentialist regimes reveals that their inability to shape policies and control their bureaucracies lies at the root of the problem of maintaining their democratic institutions.
They cannot empower their bureaucracies enough to ensure competent public administration without, at the same time, making them so powerful that they can overthrow the regime when serious crises arise. The separation-of-powers principle also hampers their ability to make good public policy decisions and to make optimal use of the bureaucratic resources they have available to them. By contrast, most parliamentarist regimes are able to maintain sufficient control over their bureaucracies (military and civil) to permit them to be powerful enough to administer well. Coping effectively with the increasingly complex problems of a modern industrialized society also moderates popular disaffection with government and reduces the pressures for revolutionary change or bureaucratic intervention. (11)
To explain the American exception, therefore, we need to understand how its bureaucracy has been kept weak enough not to be able to seize power, but strong enough to administer reasonably well. (12) The explanation involves two basic variables that affect both bureaucratic power and performance. Although other variables are also involved, two appear to be crucial: experience and coordination. Long-term experience in public service gives appointed officials specialized knowledge about how to solve difficult problems and it also enhances their power potential B balance, therefore, is needed to give officials enough experience to improve their skills as administrators but not so much as to enable them to seize power. As for coordination, the rotation of assignments among different agencies and levels of governance from the center to the periphery enables officials to coordinate their work more effectively than when they work only in one specialized field, but broadening their work experience also increases their capacity to exercise power. A more detailed discussion of bureaucratic power can be found in (Riggs, 1991b).
TYPES OF BUREAUCRACY. In order to explain the unique bureaucratic pattern found in America and its significance, it is useful to mention a simple typology that distinguishes several kinds of bureaucrat: mandarins, retainers, functionists, and in-and-outers.
Mandarins are generalist administrators recruited through literary examinations. The term comes from ancient China and came into Western usage through the British imperial experience in India where it provided the basis for recruiting Indian Civil Servants. From India it came to England where in the middle of the nineteenth century it provided a model for the establishment of the English Administrative Class, and from the UK it came to America as a model to be rejected but modified in the Pendleton Act of 1983 B see (Teng, 1943).
Retainers are patronage appointees, friends and relatives of a chief executive, who hold their posts indefinitely despite the lack of formal guarantees of tenure. When the American Constitution was adopted, no stipulations about bureaucratic positions were included because it was just taken for granted that, as in Europe, all bureaucrats would be retainers.
In-and-Outers. Fifty years later this practice was seriously undermined by the creation of in-an-outers, patronage appointees holding office for a limited time only. The new practice was called rotation in office, but we lack a good term for the temporary incumbents in such positions. We can use in-and-outers in preference to something like transients or rotaters. The former word is too general, applying to the status of visitors in many different roles, and the latter an unpleasant neologism. In-and-outer is widely used, non-pejorative, and precise enough, although it is an awkward form. However, it enables us to observe that most high-level officials (bureaucrats) in the United States government are in-and-outers.
Functionists are career officials who specialize in some professional field or function. Note that this neologism, is used here in preference to functionary, a word with similar meanings but rather negative connotations. We can think of functionists as career officials whose recruitment and posts are vocationally specialized B they are careerists with professional or technical qualifications and, normally, they serve for a long time in agencies where their specialty is required. Most civil servants in the U.S. are functionists and the study of Public Administration is largely dedicated to the analysis of their roles.
Military officers are often also functionists, specialized in a wide variety of military roles. Although many of them resign their commissions for personal reasons, they are not Ain-and-outers@ in the sense of patronage appointees who are compelled to leave office following a political change. For historical reasons, because military academies train future officers, military personnel are not viewed in America as public administrators, although they are surely bureaucrats. When we view bureaucracies as a political force, we see that the military component plays a leading role.
Geographic distribution weakens the potential for political action by American military personnel. Although many officers work in the Washington, especially at the Pentagon, the majority of those in direct command of armed forces are widely scattered in camps throughout the country and, indeed, in foreign countries also. This would seriously hamper any concerted effort by a military cabal to seize power B by contrast in many of the new states where military coups have occurred, the armed forces tend to be concentrated in the capital city and its environs. There is, of course, a constitutional reason for this geographic dispersal since, under its presidentialist constitution, powerful members of Congress with a strong interest in securing benefits for their local constituents are able to secure legislative support for military establishments in their home districts.
Let us now take a deeper look, in historical perspective, at how the various bureaucratic roles have evolved and, especially, how they have been combined in the American hybrid bureaucracy.
MANDARINATES. The basic principles involved in a mandarinate were invented some two thousand years ago in China. They helped maintain the stability and integrity of long-term Chinese dynasties. When the British learned that it was difficult to maintain effective control over their distant empire in India, they borrowed the Chinese design that they had observed closely from their "factory" in Canton. Only later, after they became increasingly impatient with the problems generated by their own patronage system, they decided to import the mandarin system from India where it had been elaborated into their Indian Civil Service.
The Administrative Class in Great Britain is the most familiar example of a contemporary mandarinate that combines long-term experience and position rotation. Its members are recruited by tough entrance examinations given only to graduates of the most prestigious universities. Their subsequent careers enable them to advance, step by step, from junior to senior posts rotating between the center and localities and different ministries. Finally, as senior undersecretaries, they become distinguished generalists and advisers to the cabinet -- coordinators and policy experts. Although easily lampooned, as in the BBC series, "Yes, Minister," permanent undersecretaries can facilitate policy formation by a government and also supervise lower level functionists who specialize in particular technical operations. A good example of such a system, derived from the British example, can be found in Canada, as described by (Campbell and Szablowski, 1979). Perhaps the most famous modern example exists in India where the British emulated the Chinese model for imperial rule, and independent India perpetuates the system in the Indian Administrative Service.
Similar reforms were carried out in virtually all other parliamentary governments. Because of the fusion of powers generated by parliamentary control over the selection and discharge of the chief executive authority, it seems clear that parliamentary regimes are unified and powerful enough to establish effective political control over a mandarin bureaucracy. (13) However, it is very difficult for a constitutional regime based on the separation-of-powers to maintain such control. Two 20th-century examples -- South Korea and South Vietnam B both fell victims to bureaucratic domination soon after they were created.
By contrast, the countries under American military administration after World War II that were permitted to restore parliamentary governance -- Japan and Germany -- also had well-established mandarinates, but the new parliamentary regimes were able to control them. In Germany, moreover, federalization with the creation of powerful Länder helped to fragment the state bureaucracy and may well have limited its power. This helps explain why, in both of these countries -- despite the near total destruction caused by World War II -- governmentally supported and regulated economic growth has proceeded so rapidly that they have become industrial superpowers.
American reformers in the late nineteenth century wanted to replace the prevalent spoils system with a mandarinate bureaucracy. Had they succeeded, they would surely have created a powerful American mandarinate capable of taking control of elected officials during periods of turbulence. No doubt the formal structures of Presidentialism would have been retained, but only as a façade covering bureaucratic domination. There would have been no coup d'etat. Instead, career mandarins would have gained power by gradual non-violent means because no government based on the separation of powers can effectively manage a mandarin bureaucracy. Mandarinates are intrinsically powerful because of their long-term experience in diverse fields of administration. A White House Office fully staffed by mandarins could easily dominate a President: to maintain real authority, presidents need to choose in-and-outers on whose personal loyalty they can rely. Similarly, members of Congress need to select staff members in order to maintain their own powers B had mandarins been assigned to staff Congressional Committees, they would probably have also found ways to control their policy decisions. The preservation of presidentialist democracy in American was made possible by the preservation of patronage in its in-and-outer form, plus the creation of a large body of functionists.
PATRONAGE. The institution of bureaucratic patronage, as noted above, depends on the ability of top executive to select friends and relatives or persons they recommend to hold official positions. No doubt patronage appointees are often highly qualified and honest people, but there is no formal mechanism of testing to assure competence, nor do patronage systems assure equity among possible candidates for public office. All modern states of the Western world, including the United States and all of Latin America were born with patronage bureaucracies. During the nineteenth century, however, most parliamentary regimes were able to replace them with mandarin systems (Dogan, 1975). However, no presidentialist regime could make (or could afford to make) this transformation. All of the older, pre-twentieth century presidentialist regimes have maintained patronage for most public offices until the present day, even though they have introduced, often rather formalistically, merit-principles and career positions in some parts of their governments.
To understand how the U.S. experience differed from that of other presidentialist regimes, we need to distinguish between two different forms of patronage. The original and still the most widespread form of patronage involves long- lasting appointments filled without assurances of tenure. During the administration of President Andrew Jackson, however, the new principle of rotation in office was instituted, creating the in-and-outer system to be discussed below.
To distinguish clearly between the two forms of patronage, we need more specific terms B as noted above, we may use retainer to refer to patronage appointees who can retain their posts indefinitely, and in-and-outer for patronage appointments that terminate in a relatively short time. During the first 30 years or so of the American regime, all patronage appointees were retainers. The word, retainer, usually refers to family servants, but it came to be used also for the official entourage of old-line monarchies. By extension, the same word can be used for long-term patronage appointees in a republic like the United States.
Leonard White was speaking about retainers when he wrote of the patronage appointees from Washington's time up to Jackson's that permanent and continued employment during good behavior was taken for granted (White 1951, p.369). Remnants of the retainer system can still be found in the U.S., especially in many local governments and most presidentialist regimes still rely mainly on retainers rather than in-and-outers to staff their bureaucracies.
Initially, retainers were not dysfunctional in presidentialist regimes. So long as the tasks performed by public officials were relatively simple, they could easily be learned or improvised "on-the-job" and experience paid off. It was clearly expedient to retain "work horses" who could pull the barges of state. Having experienced officials became increasingly important as the problems generated by industrialization became more complicated.
This means that as entrenched retainers became more indispensable to presidentialist regimes, their propensity to organize informally to protect their jobs made them more and more powerful. They never established trade unions since, without job security, anyone seeking to organize a union could easily be discharged. However, they could easily resist changes that threatened their perquisites, such as international projects to install a civil service system (Ruffing-Hilliard, 1991). More dramatically, secret cabals and cliques, especially among military officers, could become the incubators of successful coups.
When Andrew Jackson was elected president of the United States in 1829, the new populist, anti-establishment administration faced the deeply entrenched power of a retainer bureaucracy but fought it by instituting the principle of rotation in office, as explained in some detail by (Leonard White, 1954, pp.5, 12-13). During most of the 19th century, many posts in government continued to be filled by retainers. However, at the top levels of the bureaucracy, notably in the offices of the president and cabinet ministers, it became normal to expect that in-and-outers would prevail. A classic description of transients (in-and-outers) in the American bureaucracy can be found in (Heclo, 1978), but without a comparative framework, the constitutional significance of this kind of patronage system is not apparent. It is more often viewed as an administrative pathology than as a political resource.
THE HYBRID BUREAUCRACY. As the industrial revolution and globalization transformed the tasks of government, making them more complex and interdependent, the risks of government failure during times of crisis increased. During such crises, secret cabals of public officials, led by military officers, could and did seize power in many countries, especially in those with presidentialist constitutions. Maladministration in relation to the growing difficulties of public administration in countries unable to provide integrated political leadership fed mounting public anger against governmental incompetence. It also drove the bureaucratic backlash that, I believe, periodically brought military groups to power by means of a coup d'etat in 90% of all presidentialist regimes.
Why, we may well ask, did such a fate not also strike the United States? A good answer starts with the Jacksonian revolution, which, according to Leonard White, introduced rotation into the federal system. (White, 1954, pp. 4-5). Succeeding presidents became ever more corrupt and partisan in their appointments so that the abuse of power and public complaints mounted. However, transients lack the time and motivation to organize cabals to seize power. Knowing how soon they will become unemployed, they focus on using current connections to facilitate their employment outside of government after they leave public office. The preservation of constitutional governance in America, accordingly, has hinged on the establishment of rotation in office, the rotation of in-and-outers.
Because of rotation, however, government in America became increasingly corrupt and incompetent while, concurrently, the new problems generated by industrialization compelled the government to adopt increasingly complicated policies. It became increasingly apparent to members of Congress that a fundamental reform in the civil service was needed. After a long struggle, this led to the enactment of the Pendleton Act in 1883 (Van Riper, 1958). Although only an ordinary act of Congress, this law has major constitutional consequences -- it has become a fundamental part of the American para-constitution (Riggs, 1986). (14)
The Pendleton Act introduced a new and uniquely American kind of bureaucrat, a functionist who was neither a mandarin nor a retainer. Increasingly, the great majority of American bureaucrats were functionists. Complementing the in-and-outers, they created a hybrid bureaucracy, the importantly exceptional feature of public administration in America. By contrast with the in-and-outers whose most important attribute is loyalty to the President and members of the Cabinet, functionists are evaluated primarily in terms of how their training and experience qualify them to occupy positions requiring specialized skills and knowledge. In exchange, they receive long-term career appointments that survive political changes at the top.
Nevertheless, there was a political element in the Pendleton Act that has assured the survival of the system and, indeed, its gradual expansion from modest beginnings. Local constituencies in every state of the Union were given a stake in the new system by a provision that required the nation-wide distribution of appointments. This was a shrewd political move based on the West Point precedent that assured a new kind of Apatronage@ for all members of Congress. It overcame the regional bias that would have occurred if the British mandarin model had been copied. The American counterpart to the Oxbridge source of Administrative Class officers would have been the Eastern establishment and the Ivy League colleges. Their graduates would have prevailed in a system based on the recruitment of generalist administrators by traditional classical tests.
The tests prescribed by the Pendleton Act were to be practical. They capitalized on the popularity of state universities -- agricultural and mechanical colleges -- that had been established throughout the United States under Congressional mandate by means of land-grant funding. They provided the ideal training base for most of the new breed of career civil servants.
The A&M specialties were soon augmented by the establishment of programs, departments or schools of Public Administration that came to be recognized as another field of specialization leading to functionist careers in the government bureaucracy. Although opposition to elitism was often mentioned as a reason for the American rejection of the mandarin principle, its political consequences for the survival of democracy in America were profound. Gradually, after 1883, more and more posts in the American public services were staffed by functionists and, for the most part, American Public Administration schools and theories are dedicated to the training of future functionists -- they focus their attention on the problems functionists will face as government officials.
This focus excludes military officers, who already had well established training programs before the Pendleton Act. It also excludes the transients whose continuing appointment for high-level posts in the American bureaucracy largely explains the inherent political weakness of our bureaucracy. However, reliance on functionists also means that basic policy areas -- agriculture, engineering, transportation, communications, health, education, etc. -- came to be the primary focus of identity and loyalty of career functionists, not the bureaucracy as a whole system. Professional schools in these functional areas have emerged in all the state universities where, of course, the opportunity to train professionals for long-term public service became an important consideration Moreover, career functionists often became members of professional societies where they associated with private sector counterparts, sharing their technical qualifications.
As for Public Administration training, it also came to be viewed as a field of professional specialization, primarily in the staff or overhead functions generic to all branches of government. These became the bread and butter themes of academic Public Administration. After subtracting mainstream professionals, in-and-outer office-holders, and military officers, what was left over as clearly identifiable Public Administration specialists largely involved staff services such as personnel, finance, public relations, organization and methods. As the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) has discovered, it is quite difficult, in this environment, to find many people who identify themselves with the "profession" of Public Administration -- more attractive identities are available to them in the main-line professions (most of which are primarily oriented to private sector practitioners), or in the separate staff services, each of which has associations that attract many government officials to their membership.
FUNCTIONISTS AS PROFESSIONALS. Most functionists in America, therefore, identify themselves as professionals -- in the sense of this word intended by (Wilson, 1989) -- rather than bureaucrats or officials. Instead, their loyalties are primarily to the bureau or agency where they work -- in combination with their loyalty to the externally generated norms of their professional associations and schools. There primary identities erode any interest they might otherwise have in the formation of bureaucracy-wide informal organizations or public service unions. Moreover, the assurance of tenure enjoyed by functionists undermines any interest they might have in organizing informally to defend their expedient interests as public officials By contrast, in most other presidentialist regimes, retainers staff most public offices -- they lack explicit career guarantees, and are motivated to organize themselves to safeguard their security and privileges. (15)
The external links of American functionists with a private sector profession enable many of them to become non-partisan transients, often entering and leaving government service in professional roles, including those of university professors. Politically, this means that any official who might be deeply dissatisfied with his or her role as a public servant often has good opportunities to find better posts in the private sector. Weighing their options, American bureaucrats are likely to see that they have little to gain by organizing as bureaucrats: at most they will establish trade unions to press for better working conditions and salaries, but they will not think about trying to overthrow or replace the regime.
In sum, the development of a functionist bureaucracy enabled the American government to enjoy the services of increasingly specialized long-termers without taking the risk that they might form cabals to control or oust the government. Indeed, American political scientists and specialist in public administration take the permanence of their presidentialist (separation-of-powers) constitutional system for granted and cannot imagine that they would benefit by supporting a coup d'etat.
The spread of functionism in America has also led to significant improvements in the quality of public administration within specific niches. The major problems they confront involve relations between these niches. Without a class of superburaucrats to coordinate and integrate the administrative system, interdepartmental and inter-agency clashes and difficulties have become endemic. However, the typical response of both scholars and practitioners is to view these difficulties as a challenge to be confronted and solved, but not as a catastrophic obstacle to be met by any fundamental transformations of the system.
One of the consequences of the constitutional system that affects all American officials involves the formation of sub-systems linking them with legislative committees and private sector interest groups. Sometimes referred to as sub-governments or iron triangles, these formations are also viewed as a manageable problem that can be solved without fundamental changes in the constitutional system. Though many writers lament the power of subgovernments in America, they view them as regrettable accidents but not as deep-rooted manifestations of the dynamics of Presidentialism. Bureaucratic politics are viewed as an endemic intra-systemic game or challenge rather than as a fundamental aspect of the exceptional American constitutional system -- see, for example, (Rourke, 1991) and (Seidman, 1980).
CONCLUSION. Because the risk of bureaucratic revolts was eliminated in America, it is not even discussed in textbooks on American Public Administration. The prevalent assumption in these works is that all bureaucracies are essentially "non- political" instruments of public policy, subservient to the basic political choices made by some kind of representative government. The prevalent myth of a dichotomy between politics and administration permits American specialists on Public Administration to distance themselves from political questions and even from Political Science as a discipline. They are able to view the prevalence of bureaucratic polities in many third world countries as an aberration due to underdevelopment or cultural differences rather than to the collapse of democratic institutions. They tend to overlook the political role of all public bureaucracies, including military officers as well as civil servants -- a point made by this author more than 35 years ago (Riggs, 1963).
The current emphasis on development management found among American Public Administration experts interested in third world problems points to parallels in business administration where politics is viewed as irrelevant. This focus enables them, in their schools and departments of Public Administration, to assume that the American practices and theories of public administration are almost universally relevant and provide guidelines that can be applied almost universally, in any system of governance. By ignoring problems of military administration and the continuing reliance on patronage in public office for top-level in-and-outer appointees, American experts, with some notable exceptions, focus their attention on the management and role of career civil servants (functionists), especially in the staff services, as tantamount to the whole field of Public Administration. (16)
One consequence of this orientation is the persisting acceptance by most Americans of the myth that bureaucrats can and should be non-political actors. Their interests and activities outside of their formally prescribed administrative duties are largely ignored even though, in many if not most countries, the political concerns of public officials and their capacity to organize for collective action always enable them to influence the shaping of public policy and, in many cases, to be come the most important political actors, notably in countries where they have seized power and displaced elected politicians or hereditary rulers. This perception is not due to any intellectual limitations: rather, it can be attributed to the very exceptional properties of the American constitutional regime whose persistence and success, in the face of the extreme liabilities inherent in the separation-of-powers system, hinges on the ability of this political system to maintain a high level of administrative capacity while maintaining effective control over bureaucrats by elected politicians. This achievement hinges on the concurrent appointment of loyal in-and-outers in top-level policy positions and a much larger number of professionally trained functionists throughout the rank and file of subordinated positions.
Countries with parliamentary regimes, as in virtually all other industrialized democracies, do not need to rely on this design because they are capable, through a fused power structure, to maintain effective control over a mandarin bureaucracy staffed at the higher levels by career generalists. Almost all other presidentialist regimes are unable to adopt the American hybrid bureaucratic system because an entrenched retainer bureaucracy is powerful enough to block such a transformation that would, in fact, substantially curtail their fundamental interests. As for authoritarian regimes facing a possible collapse, it seems clear that ambitious revolutionary leaders are attracted to the presidentialist model because it promises to legitimize their own power. However, they should also be warned of the dangers inherent in this decision which, in many cases, puts the lives and reputations of new presidents at risk. They would, we believe, do much better to support the establishment of parliamentary systems in which these leaders might be able to choose between the prestigious and safe role of head of state or the more powerful role of a prime minister subject to removal from office by parliament in response to the unpredictable political forces that make democratic governance viable.
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Hocart, A.M., 1927. Kingship. London: Oxford University Press.
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1. This essay was originally designed for use in a conference making comparisons between different presidentialist regimes. However, because the focus of that exercise was on Latin America, comparisons with the U.S. were viewed as irrelevant. The essay was eventually published in a context where problems of comparative methodology were examined.
2. For the most part the leaders of the world's new states have been elected to office, but a few are still hereditary rulers who are able to retain control over their bureaucracies. There are different reasons but they include their ability to perpetuate traditional values, as in Bhutan, or their wealth from the export of natural resources, especially oil, as in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and Brunei. Monarchs who seek to modernize and tax their subjects risk the fate of the former Shah of Iran, and the Ottoman Emperors. Most surviving kings have surrendered the power to rule while retaining the throne as symbolic heads of state. No further attention will be paid in this essay to ruling monarchs, an interesting but marginalized phenomenon in the contemporary world.
3. The preservation of traditional institutions while importing modern practices generates prismatic contradictions in which real power is typically exercised outside the boundaries of either system: (Riggs, 1964)
4. In traditional societies sovereignty was vested in hereditary rulers (kings) whose sacred mandate was widely accepted as a source of peace, health and sustenance by docile subjects: see (Hocart, 1927). Even after the penetration of Western secularism, these beliefs still persist among many people throughout the world.
5. An official version of Thailand's political history and institutions can be found at the country's Parliament <http://www.parliament.go.th/files/library/b01.htm> site. Here one can find basic information about each of Thailand's political Parties. <http://www.parliament.go.th/files/politi/d02.htm > Also view the Thai Government Site. <http://www.thaigov.go.th> Go to ARCHIVE to find a list of prime ministers whose personal history is also provided if one clicks on their names. For a succinct political history of Thailand go to Background notes. <http://www.state.gov/www/background_notes/thailand_0010_bgn.html> by the U. S. State Dept. Also see the international reference source, Orientation.<http://www.asiatour.com/thailand/e-01land/et-lan15.htm>
6.Information about each country can be found in the Political Handbook of the World < http://phw.binghamton.edu> a comprehensive yearbook. Other sources include the U.S. State Department's Background Notes <http://www.state.gov/www/background_notes/index.html> about every country in the world. Also see the international reference source, Orientation. < http://www.orientation.com/en/home.html>
7. Most American textbooks on Public Administration actually deal only with American public administration and lack the comparative context that would enable their readers to understand how truly exceptional are the administrative practices and theories found in the U.S. A notable exception is the text by (Heady, 2001)
8. Interestingly, the third world regimes that have lasted longest and were able to avoid coups were not democracies -- rather, they were single party authoritarianisms. A Communist Party that could dominate its elected assembly to maintain its centralized control could also manage its appointed officials, including its military officers, so as to avoid a bureaucratic revolt. In the long run, however, we may expect communist regimes to collapse because of intra-party demoralization attributable to inefficient administration by a powerless bureaucracy rather than a coup d'etat organized by a powerful bureaucracy, or even by a popular revolution -- for some further thoughts on the implications of bureaucratic powerlessness, see Riggs (1997a, pp.99-101; 1997b, pp.21, 26).
9. In single party dictatorships, both the head of government and the assembly are dominated by the ruling party, which makes such regimes undemocratic. I do not, therefore, take them into account in this analysis.
10. By contrast, a powerless bureaucracy, under single-party domination, is administratively incompetent, which is one reason why a communist regime must ultimately fail (Riggs, 1997b).
11. Although industrialization may have been the engine for modernity, it could not have been accomplished without the parallel and interdependent processes of democratization and nation building. The linkages between these processes and their implications for bureaucracy as both an independent and dependent variable are explored in (Riggs, 1997c).
12. Part of the answer to this puzzle can be found by explaining the survival of representative governance in America, a feat mentioned above where I attribute it to the maintenance of oligarchic principles of political representation. Since this is an essential part of the equation, it needs to be understood but I cannot discuss it further here -- see Riggs (1986 and 1994c).
13. Parliamentary regimes are typically able to legitimize their rule more easily than presidentialist systems. Among the important reasons one may consider that parliaments as vehicles of popular sovereignty and representative government are more effective sources of political legitimacy than are elected presidents as heads of state. The purely secular authority of a president who is necessarily also entangled in the politics of heading a government cannot match the sacred sovereignty of traditional kings. For a discussion of this point see: (Riggs, 1997d).
14. The term, para-constitutional, is used for fundamentally important rules or practices in the American constitutional system that are not based on formal provisions of the written Constitution and its Amendments. They may be rooted in ordinary legislation, like the Pendleton Act, or simply in changing political practices, such as the evolution of political party conventions and primaries for the nomination of American presidents.
15. An extended List < http://188.8.131.52/solutionstemp/assns.html> of Web Sites for a wide range of American associations devoted to various professions related to the public service can be found at the ASPA Home Page. <href="http://www.aspanet.org>
16. To see how American comparativists in Public Administration talk about their work take a look at the discourse in the Development Management Network. <http://www.uncc.edu/stwalker/sica/conferences.htm#DMN> For an interesting collection of short statements about the implications of globalization for comparative public administration, view the material on Postcards <http://www.uncc.edu/stwalker/sica/postcards/home.htm> at the Web Site of ASPA's Section for International and Comparative Administration (SICA).
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