Theoretical Grounding of Bureaucratic Ethics

  • Steven G. KovenEmail author


The size and scope of the US government has expanded significantly since the founding of the nation. This chapter presents various explanations for this growth that include factors such as urbanization, economic crisis, war, clientele pressure, and budget maximization. Concurrent with government growth is the need for bureaucracies to produce efficiency, economy, neutrality, and rationality. The general ethos of these organizations is described as well as the potential threat this ethos poses to constitutional government. In theory, bureaucracies act with neutrality, responding to the will of elected leaders and the desires of the people. An alternative model is presented where constituents defer to the expertise of careerists in organizations. In this model subjectivity and discretion are celebrated. The writings of classical bureaucratic theorist such as Woodrow Wilson, Max Weber, Frederick Winslow Taylor, Henri Fayol, and Luther Gulick buttress the case for expertise and discretion to play major roles in public policy. Finally, the chapter introduces the concept of bureaucratic resistance to electoral authority. Resistance can take various forms. However, each form of resistance represents a threat to democratic accountability. Bureaucratic autonomy, even if it leads to efficiency, is viewed as a potential menace to the values of responsiveness and government by consent of the governed.


  1. Appleby, P. (1949). Policy and administration. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.Google Scholar
  2. Bardach, E. (1977). The implementation game: What happens after a bill becomes a law. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  3. Beetham, D. (1996). Bureaucracy (2nd ed.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  4. Brennan, G., & Buchanan, J. (1980). The power to tax: Analytical foundations of a fiscal constitution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Burke, J. (1986). Bureaucratic responsibility. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Cohen, J. (2000). Politics and economic policy in the United States (2nd ed.). Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Company.Google Scholar
  7. Cooper, T. L. (1990). The responsible administrator (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  8. Davis, K. C. (1969). Discretionary justice: A preliminary inquiry. Baton Rouge: LSU Press.Google Scholar
  9. Denhardt, K. G. (1988). The ethics of public service: Resolving moral dilemmas in public organizations. Westport: Greenwood Press.Google Scholar
  10. Dilulio, J. (2014). Bring back the bureaucrats. West. Conshohocken: Templeton Press.Google Scholar
  11. Dobel, J. P. (1999). Public integrity. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Etzioni-Halevy, E. (1983). Bureaucracy and democracy: A political dilemma. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  13. Fayol, H. (1916 [1987]). General principles of management. In J. M. Shafritz & J. S. Ott (Eds.), Classics of organization theory (2nd ed., pp. 51–66). Chicago: The Dorsey Press.Google Scholar
  14. Frug, G. E. (1984). The ideology of bureaucracy in American law. Harvard Law Review, 97(6), 1276–1388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fry, B., & Raadschelders, J. (2008). Mastering public administration: From Max Weber to Dwight Waldo (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: CQ Press.Google Scholar
  16. Garrett, T. A., & Rhine, R. M. (2006, January/February). On the size and growth of government. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Review, 88(1), 13–30. Retrieved January 31, 2017, from
  17. Gerth, H. H., & Mills, C. W. (1958). From Max Weber: Essays in sociology. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Gulick, L. (1925). Principles of administration. National Municipal Review, 14(7), 400–403.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gulick, L. (1937 [1969]). Notes on the theory of organization. In L. Gulick & L. Urwick (Eds.), Papers on the science of administration (pp. 3–45). New York: Augustus M. Kelly Publishers.Google Scholar
  20. Kristov, L., Lindert, P., & McClelland, R. (1992). Pressure groups and redistribution. Journal of Public Economics, 48(2), 135–163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lipsky, M. (2010). Street-level bureaucracy: Dilemmas of the individual in public services. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  22. Long, N. (1949). Power and administration. Public Administration Review, 9(3), 257–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lutrin, C., & Settle, A. (1985). American public administration: Concepts and cases (3rd ed.). Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall Inc.Google Scholar
  24. Maggetti, M. (2010). Legitimacy and accountability of independent regulatory agencies: A critical review. Center for Comparative and International Studies, ETH Zurich and University of Zurich. Retrieved February 27, 2018, from
  25. Mathews, R. (2017). Iran-Contra affair. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved January 11, 2017, from
  26. Meier, K. (2010). Governance, structure, and democracy: Luther Gulick and the future of public administration. Public Administration Review, 70, S284–S291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Nice, C., & Fisher, P. (2016). Public budgeting (2nd ed.). San Diego: Birkdale Publishers.Google Scholar
  28. Niskanen, W. (1971 [1994]). Bureaucracy and public economics. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  29. O’Leary, R. (2006). The ethics of dissent: Managing guerrilla government. Washington, DC: CQ Press.Google Scholar
  30. Ostrom, V. (1973). The intellectual crisis in American public administration. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.Google Scholar
  31. Pennock, J. R. (1960). The problems of responsibility. In C. J. Friedrich (Ed.), Responsibility (pp. 3–27). New York: Liberal Arts Press.Google Scholar
  32. Perrow, C. (1979). Complex organizations: A critical essay (2nd ed.). Glenview: Scott Foresman.Google Scholar
  33. Plant, J. F. (2018). Responsibility in public administration ethics. The Public Interest, 20(Supplement 1), S33–S45.Google Scholar
  34. Postell, J. (2017). Bureaucracy in America: The administrative state’s challenge to constitutional government. Columbia: University of Missouri Press.Google Scholar
  35. Rainey, H. (2003). Understanding and managing public organizations (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Wiley.Google Scholar
  36. Rohr, J. (1989). Ethics for bureaucrats: An essay on law and values (2nd ed.). New York: Marcel Dekker.Google Scholar
  37. Rourke, F. E. (1984). Bureaucracy, politics, and public policy (3rd ed.). Boston: Little Brown & Company.Google Scholar
  38. Shafritz, J., & Ott, S. (1987). Classics of organization theory (2nd ed.). Chicago: Dorsey Press.Google Scholar
  39. Spicer, M. (1998). The science of administration, the founders, and theories of political association. International Journal of Public Administration, 21(2), 299–321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Stillman, R. (1987). The American bureaucracy. Chicago: Nelson-Hall.Google Scholar
  41. Tassava, C. (2008, February 10). The American economy during World War II. EH.Net Encyclopedia. Retrieved February 27, 2018, from
  42. Turner, H. A. (1956). Woodrow Wilson as administrator. Public Administration Review, 16(4), 249–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. United States Department of Homeland Security. (2017). Retrieved January 11, 2017, from
  44. Waldo, D. (1948). The administrative state: A study of the political theory of American public administration. New York: Ronald Press.Google Scholar
  45. Will, G. (2017, February 25). ‘Big government’ is ever growing, on the sly. National Review. Retrieved January 9, 2017, from
  46. Wilson, W. (1887). The study of administration. Political Science Quarterly, 2(2), 197–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Wilson, J. Q. (1975). The rise of the bureaucratic state. The Public Interest, 41, 77–103.Google Scholar
  48. Woll, P. (1963). American bureaucracy. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of LouisvilleLouisvilleUSA

Personalised recommendations