Checks on Bureaucracy, Organizational Accountability, and Organizational Culture

  • Steven G. KovenEmail author


Bureaucracies are not runaway trains. In and of themselves they are not destined to capture power from an inattentive public; they are not preordained to rule by virtue of their superior knowledge and expertise. There are very specific mechanisms to control potential excesses of the nonelected bureaucrats. This chapter describes checks on the power of the bureaucracy. The “inner check” relies upon a sense of professionalism, moral responsibility, and personal resolve as a control. The “outer check” in contrast adapts a less optimistic view of human motivations. The “outer check” requires obedience to external controlling authorities. For the outer check to be effective, external punitive controls are essential. Wrongdoing is likely to occur in the absence of such controls. Institutions enact controls on bureaucracies. These institutions include the three branches of government (executive, legislative, and judicial) as well as the media. Strong institutions prevent illegal capture of governance by bureaucratic actors. The chapter notes that it is difficult to discuss actions that can universally apply to all government organizations because government agencies differ dramatically in terms of their missions and culture. Bureaucracies retain discretion, yet their power can be constrained by either internal or external controls.


  1. Bart, C. K. (1997, November–December). Sex, lies, and mission statements. Business Horizons, pp. 9–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Cooper, T. L. (1998). The responsible administrator (4th ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  3. Finer, H. (1936). Better government personnel. Political Science Quarterly, 51(4), 569–599.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Finer, H. (1941). Administrative responsibility in democratic government. Public Administration Review, 1(4), 335–350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Friedrich, C. J. (1935). Problems of the American public service. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  6. Friedrich, C. J. (1940 [1972]). Public policy and the nature of administrative responsibility. In F. Rourke (Ed.), Bureaucratic power in national politics (2nd ed.). Boston: Little, Brown.Google Scholar
  7. Garrett, R. S., Thurber, A., Fritschler, A., & Rosenbloom, D. (2006). Assessing the impact of bureaucracy bashing by electoral campaigns. Public Administration Review, 66(2), 228–240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Gaus, J. M. (1936). The responsibility of public administrators. In J. M. Gaus, I. D. White, & M. Dimock (Eds.), The frontiers of public administration (pp. 26–44). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  9. Goodsell, C. T. (2011). Mission mystique: Belief systems in public agencies. Washington, DC: CQ Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gruber, J. E. (1987). Controlling bureaucracies. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  11. Halperin, M., Clapp, P., & Kanter, A. (2006). Bureaucratic politics and foreign policy (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: Brookings Institute.Google Scholar
  12. Jackson, M. (2009). Responsibility versus accountability in the Friedrich-Finer debate. Journal of Management History, 15(1), 66–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Kaufman, H. (2006). The forest ranger: A study in administrative behavior (Special reprint ed.). Washington, DC: Resources for the Future.Google Scholar
  14. Koven, S. G. (2008). Responsible governance: A case study approach. Armonk: M.E. Sharpe.Google Scholar
  15. Koven, S. G. (2015). Public sector ethics: Theory and applications. Boca Raton: CRC Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Lowi, T. (1969). The end of liberalism. New York: W.W. Norton.Google Scholar
  17. Mark, M. (2015, November 6). Amid Kim Davis backlash, Kentucky Gov.-Elect Matt Bevin to remove clerks’ names from state marriage licenses. International Business Times. Retrieved May 21, 2018, from
  18. McCoy, A. W. (2006). A question of torture: CIA interrogation, from the cold war to the war on terror. New York: Henry Holt.Google Scholar
  19. Meier, K. (1993). Politics and the bureaucracy (3rd ed.). Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  20. Meier, K., & O’Toole, L. (2006). Bureaucracy in a democratic state. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Pfiffner, J. P. (2001). Presidential appointments: Recruiting executive branch leaders. In G. C. Mackenzie (Ed.), Innocent until nominated: The breakdown of the presidential appointments process (pp. 50–80). Washington, DC: Brookings Institute.Google Scholar
  22. Pfiffner, J. P. (2013). The paradox of President Reagan’s leadership. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 43(1), 81–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Schein, E. (2004). Organizational culture and leadership (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  24. Schubert, G. (1960). The public interest. Glencoe: Free Press.Google Scholar
  25. Thompson, V. (1975). Without sympathy or enthusiasm: The problem of administrative compassion. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.Google Scholar
  26. United States Department of State. (n.d.). The oversight powers of Congress. Retrieved May 28, 2018, from
  27. Weisman, S. (1983, October 10). Watt quits post; President accepts with ‘reluctance.’ New York Times, p. A1.Google Scholar
  28. Wilson, J. Q. (1989). Bureaucracy. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of LouisvilleLouisvilleUSA

Personalised recommendations