Most people don't think much about the government bureaucracy, except to gripe about it: it's too big, too slow, too inefficient, et cetera, et cetera. But the bureaucracy is more than just a faceless processor of government policy. It wields considerable influence over public policy, and its leadership plays a critical role in complex relationships between the various parts of the government, economic elites and the public. In the video clip on the right side of this page, Barry McBee, a long time public servant who has worked in various parts of the government as an appointed official, suggests that most folks don't appreciate the influence of the unelected people who preside over the day-to-day machinery of government.
With a population that alternates between ignoring the public bureaucracy and vilifying it, and a group of political professionals keenly aware of the central role played by these bureaucrats, it's little surprise that on the infrequent occasions when the bureaucracy comes under the spotlight, the scrutiny is intense. In the mid-1990s, for example, the idea of "reinventing government" focused on the bureaucracy, emphasizing a broad range of measures intended to make executive branch departments and agencies more efficient, streamlined, and responsive to the needs of citizens and society as a whole. By using new information technologies, cutting dreaded "red-tape," empowering civil servants to make decisions, eliminating redundancies, and outsourcing services that might be performed more efficiently by private sector vendors, the bureaucracy could do more for less cost. Well, at least according to the re-inventors. Best of all, reinvention would be driven by purely logical assessment of needs and available resources and analysis of the benefits and costs, accomplished in a largely non-political attempt to serve the public interest.
This approach sounds good. But it turns out that that bureaucratic reorganization is always a highly politicized process, with multiple actors pursuing a wide range of goals that might not be directly related to the issues at hand, and rarely are focused on serving the interests of the public at large. (This chaper's Talking Politics feature Reinventing Government discusses the political context in which the term became popularized, and subsequently fizzled out.)
Policy initiatives related to "reinventing government" tended to focus on the federal government rather than state government in Texas, but the language of "reinvention" dovetails with the traditional emphasis on limited government in the state's political history. "Reinvention" initiatives also had an indirect effect on state programs: the large size of federal government programs, federal-state partnerships, and direct transfers of federal money to the states meant that any changes on the national level affected overall state budgets and individual state government programs. State programs related to education, transportation, public health and social welfare are all shaped at least in part by rules, regulations and funding on the national level.
Regardless of the Texas bureaucracy's degree of invention or reinvention, it plays a large role in the day to day lives of all Texans. To begin our discussion of bureaucracy in Texas, we call attention to the features on the right side of this page, which provide a useful overview of the contours of the Texas government bureaucracy. The table Expenditures of the state of Texas by function provides a general glimpse of the shape of state bureaucracy today. Paying the Public's Servants provides various breakdowns of the government payroll. Government Employment Across Texas Counties provides an overall view of employment by different levels of government across the state. These features set the stage for this chapter's discussion of the size, scope, functioning and overall importance of the bureaucracy in Texas.