Texas Politics - Bureaucracy go back

1. Introduction
1.1 Reinventing HHS
1.2 Lessons from the Reorganization of State Agencies
1.3 Looking Ahead
2. Bureaucracy and Modernity
3. The "Fourth Branch" of Government and the Policy-making Process
3.1 The Texas Constitution and the Bureaucracy
3.2 The Bureaucracy in Contemporary Texas
3.3 The Policymaking Process
4. Bureaucratic Power and Accountability
4.1 Legislature
4.2 Sunset Review
4.3 Interest Groups
4.4 Governor
4.5 Citizen Influence on the Bureaucracy
5. Structure, Size and Scope of Texas Bureaucracy
5.1 Structure: Leadership Selection
5.2 Size: Employees and Salaries
5.3 State Government Employment in Comparative Perspective
5.4 Federal Government Employment in Texas
6. Federal Context for Policy-making and Implementation
6.1 Types of Federal Aid to State and Local Governments
6.2 Federal Spending on Aid and the Shape of State Bureaucracies
6.3 State-level Initiatives and Federal Programs
7. Conclusion

1. Introduction

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.

1.1 Reinventing HHS

To illustrate both the complexity of the state government bureaucracy and the politics that often surround supposedly politically neutral bureaucracies, consider the reorganization of the Texas public health bureaucracy in 2003. The reorganization and consolidation of two separate executive departments, Public Health and Human Services, was set in motion by a bill approved by the 78th legislature in spring 2003. Signed into law by Governor Perry in June 2003, House Bill (HB) 2292 ordered the consolidation of twelve health and human services agencies and functions into five new agencies. The law also consolidated all related policymaking authority under the Executive Commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), in effect centralizing authority within this broad area of the public administration.

The law also mandated the creation and probable privatization of up to four call centers used to answer questions on eligibility and to enroll people for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Food Stamps, Medicaid, and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). These functions had been performed by more than 11,000 state workers at over 1,000 Texas Department of Human Services (DHS) offices around the state.

A previous effort by the state to reorganize its public health and human services departments, and to outsource the work performed by its call center employees, failed in a political collision between state and federal authorities. In 1995 the legislature voted to contract private companies - including Lockheed Martin, IBM, Electronic Data Systems, and Andersen Consulting - to answer eligibility and enrollment inquiries for its various social programs.

Since much of the money used to fund the social services in question comes from federal sources, the state sought the approval of agencies within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). HHS, in turn, was under strong pressure to reject the Texas proposal. The main source of this pressure was labor unions, particularly AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees), which represents approximately 1.3 million workers across the country. HHS began deliberating on the Texas plan in June 1996, and after several months sent state officials a letter saying it could not "provide a final decision at this time." A second letter sent in March 1997 warned Texas officials that proceeding with the privatization plan might jeopardize federal funds. [1] The reorganization effort fizzled in the face of this warning.

Fast-forward to 2003. Interest groups, labor unions, and private corporations were similarly divided over the new design for public health reorganization represented by HB 2292. But this time around, other interested parties - especially the governor - got involved.

In addition to mandating the massive consolidation of state public health and human services agencies in ways that fundamentally affected the delivery of services, the law also changed how public policy in this area is developed and whether the public has the opportunity for input on policy changes. The reorganization of agencies and programs under the 2003 law instituted a significant centralization of power in the Health and Human Services Commission. The governor also gained influence through the power to appoint the executive commissioner and deputy commissioners. Under the new structure the governing boards of the four new and consolidated agencies were to be replaced with advisory councils with no rulemaking authority, depriving these agencies of a critical source of distributed power and flexibility in the bureaucracy.

This new agency structure represented a massive shift in the control and political use of the single biggest area of state administration - public health and human services - with an annual budget of some 27.8 billion in fiscal year 2007, 37.5 percent of total state expenditures.

According to the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a think tank critical of the plan, the reorganization provisions of HB 2292 went far beyond simple reorganization. "These changes raise the concern that customer service may deteriorate and HHS policy decisions will become less open to the public - in particular, the advocates who look out for the interests of the people these programs serve - and more subject to political considerations." [2] Advocates of the plan, however, continued to claim that the reorganization promised to increase efficiency and cost effectiveness. Debate over the 2003 legislation continued through the following legislative session in 2005. More systematic review awaits the sunset review of the Health and Human Services cluster of departments, which is scheduled for the 2006-2007 cycle. The Sunset process is discussed in upcoming sections.

1.2 Lessons from the Reorganization of State Agencies

However one interprets the results of the Health and Human Services reorganization, the process of consolidation and privatization of public health and human services agencies in Texas provides a window into the following observations about the state bureaucracy:

  • The bureaucracy tends to be weak and fragmented in Texas, even those departments and agencies that manage considerable sums of money and thousands of employees. The health bureaucracy in Texas was a sprawling, complex apparatus prior to the reorganization (and it may continue this way even after the HHS reorganization).

  • In recent years there has been a moderate short-term trend toward centralization of executive branch authority under the governor in Texas. The argument that some degree of centralization would increase effectiveness was offered as one justification for the HHS reorganization. But centralization is often a political end in itself. Indeed, the greater potential for abuse of authority in a more centralized bureaucracy is a central concern.

  • The bureaucracy receives large amounts of federal money for administration, equipment and programs, and as such is subject to considerable federal oversight. All efforts to reorganize the health bureaucracy in Texas, including the 2003 effort, required taking into account federal guidelines and funding formulas.

  • While the bureaucracy is often derided for being wasteful, inefficient, unresponsive, and meddling, many powerful groups seek to control its resources. This is a critical point, elaborated in both this chapter and the political economy chapter.

  • In the current era of fiscal crisis in state government across the country, new, often radical experiments are being implemented to streamline bureaucratic operations. But such innovations are always filtered and refracted through the prism of existing political forces and institutions on the local, state and federal levels.

1.3 Looking Ahead

This chapter is organized into five main sections. First, we briefly review Max Weber's conceptual treatment of bureaucracy as a hallmark of modern society and government, an improvement on "traditional" ways of organizing public authority based on personal connections or individual charisma. This is a critical initial step in thinking conceptually about the Texas bureaucracy, because our state culture and public institutions are imbued with a fundamental distrust of public authority. Identifying some of the contradictions many citizens share about the proper role of the public bureaucracy prepares us for the subsequent discussions of the bureaucracy's power, accountability, size, and scope.

The following section provides an overview of the so-called "fourth branch" of government, with a specific focus on the policy making process. This includes presentation of a simple model that depicts five distinct steps from proposal to post-implementation assessment. A central point in this model is that even though the legislature is responsible for making all laws, the bureaucracy often has considerable leeway to formulate rules and guidelines for implementing those laws.

The overview of the extra-constitutional fourth branch leads directly into our review of the various forces working to direct the bureaucracy's activities and make it accountable in at least limited ways. Many institutions and political actors - including the legislature, the governor, interest groups and citizens - seek to influence and control the bureaucracy using a wide array of tools. As we will see, some tools are more effective than others for achieving specific ends, making the practice of bureaucratic control rather complex and multilayered.

Next we take a broad look at the current size, scope and organization of the state bureaucracy in Texas. The chapter on the Political Economy of Texas provides data on how much the state government and its various departments and agencies cost. In the present chapter we provide additional detail on the organization of the bureaucracy and the types of activities for which it is responsible. The key here is that even in a conservative, "small-government" state like Texas, considerable responsibilities are placed on the administrative apparatus of state government.

After reviewing the scope and structure of the state administrative bureaucracy, we review the federal context for policy making and implementation. Because Texas is part of a federal system of government, many of these responsibilities are mandated or encouraged by the national government. These federal mandates and other voluntary programs usually are substantially funded by the national government as well. The policy areas influenced by federal mandates and funding do not represent the full extent of public administration in the state. But they involve some of the biggest outlays of money and require some of the most extensive administrative apparatuses and highest number of personnel.

The governmental bureaucracy can at times seem a bit mind-numbing in its complexity, but it is also the place where politics and policy come together in intriguing interactions.

2. Bureaucracy and Modernity

Even though "bureaucracy" is critical to the implementation of the wishes of elected officials who propose and pass legislation, governmental bureaucracy often takes a beating from politicians and the public at large. Ironically, though, historians and social scientists often point to bureaucracy as the hallmark of the development of modern political systems, which are thought to be based on efficiency and rationality. As a result of this contradiction, the bureaucracies and bureaucrats that we rely on to implement public policy occupy a thoroughly ambiguous position in modern political culture. They are essential components of the public policy system, but are seemingly fated to suffer the slings and arrows of critics from all camps when they disappoint people's exacting expectations, or when they otherwise implement policies that you or I might not like.

One of the earliest writers on bureaucracy and governmental administration was the German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920), whose writings on bureaucracy contributed to the common ideal of the unbiased, efficient, "rational-legal" bureaucracy. Weber observed that all authority could be classified as one of three types: traditional authority, in which tasks and duties were not well-defined and were not based on merit/competence; charismatic authority based on devotion to a particular individual; and rational-legal authority, based on well-defined, impersonal rules and the assigning of jobs based on technical competence.

Despite having some negative consequences, the rational-legal type of authority is generally thought to be preferable to traditional or charismatic authority, and to provide the model for bureaucratic behavior in a modern political system. Weber saw that modern "rational-legal" officialdom ideally functioned according to six principles.

  1. fixed division of labor, with specialization of workers

  2. positions organized into a chain of command, a hierarchy

  3. rules and regulations regarding work

  4. separation of personal and official property

  5. selection of personnel on the basis of technical qualifications

  6. employment that is career-oriented

While these principles may not merit a news alert today, they represented a critical insight for tradition-bound European societies in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when Weber did much of his writing. In that period German government agencies were pioneering modern administration techniques that were replacing practices based on loyalty to the nobility and the Catholic Church dating back to the Middle Ages. In the United States until the late 1800s, jobs in the still relatively small government bureaucracy were largely awarded on the basis of political allegiance rather than capability. In the aftermath of every election of high-level executive officials (mayors, governors, and the president), it was common for functionaries at all levels of government, right down to the postal carriers and street sweepers, to be replaced with the winners' political supporters.

Weber's basic conception, despite being extensively critiqued and qualified, continues to cast a long shadow on both academic and commonsense conceptions of public bureaucracies. A careful reading reveals that Weber never expected actual bureaucracies to be perfect exemplars of the general characteristics he applied to them in his effort to contrast them with their more corrupt, less efficient historical predecessors. Nonetheless, we tend to idealize many of the features of bureaucratic organization, at least in the abstract or when applied to private enterprise, and then are chronically disappointed when bureaucrats fall short of such idealistic expectations. When our public bureaucracies are shown to be not so efficient, or subject to some degree of nepotism or graft, we shake our heads in disgust.

Ironically, sometimes we express contempt for bureaucracies - both private and public - when they actually behave as expected. How many times have we rolled our eyes or shaken our heads when referring to "faceless bureaucrats," or the "bureaucrats in Austin" (or in Washington)? These references and attitudes are often expressed when we perceive that the bureaucracy is out of touch or slow moving. Yet that is exactly how the bureaucracy is designed to function. Bureaucracies are not supposed to be blown by the rapidly shifting winds of public opinion, or to be responsive to the particular needs of small groups and individuals when they want to contravene rules and regulations made for all citizens. Annoying as it may be, procedure exists to ensure fairness and regularity.

In this sense, the centrality of bureaucracy to modern life is twofold. Large scale government bureaucracy organized around Weberian principles is a rational solution to the scale and complexity of the tasks governments must accomplish in industrialized democratic societies. On the other hand we often blame the bureaucracy when our faith in progress and the ability of humans to accomplish ever more daunting tasks is periodically frustrated. With ambitions of social and technical progress come inevitable disappointments. And the modern bureaucracy is almost always the first thing we blame, whether the problem is large, as in a sputtering public education system, or small, as in a long wait to renew our driver's licenses.

3. The "Fourth Branch" of Government and the Policy-making Process

Now that we have some appreciation for the underpinnings of thinking about modern governmental bureaucracy, we need to understand the bureaucracy within the context of the constitutional principles for organizing government in the United States. The bureaucracies at the federal and, to a lesser extent, the state level have grown up in the margins of the three core branches of government: the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. The division of government into three branches and separate powers gives each branch both exclusive powers and some additional powers over the other two branches. Within this scheme, the bureaucracy seems an awkward fit, adding to our ambivalent attitudes toward the administrative face of government.

Over time, the bureaucracy has come to be conceived as a "fourth branch" that exists in tension with the principles of separated powers and checks and balances. The bureaucracy is nowhere specified in the US Constitution. There is an article dedicated to each of the three main branches, but none dedicated to any sort of bureaucracy. Nor is the bureaucracy explicitly provided for in articles on the three core branches.

Bureaucratic organs may be implied in the long list of powers of Congress: for instance, to lay and collect taxes, to regulate commerce with foreign nations, to establish post offices and post roads, etc (Article I, Section 8). And some administrative departments are clearly implied in the reference to the president at times requiring "the opinion, in writing, of the principal officer in each of the executive departments, upon any subject relating to the duties of their respective offices" (Article II, Section 2). But these various responsibilities and implied departments are nowhere identified as a coherent whole with a specific structure - in short, as a distinct and separate branch of government.

The sections that follow examine how constitutional organization provides an important context for the formation of political bureaucracies and the evolution of their roles in Texas.

3.1 The Texas Constitution and the Bureaucracy

The Texas Constitution is more explicit than the U.S. Constitution in specifying the elements - though not a comprehensive design - of the bureaucracy.

Article IV on the Executive Department in Texas identifies the top seven executive branch officials. It states: "The executive department of the State shall consist of a governor, who shall be the chief executive officer of the State, a lieutenant-governor, secretary of State, comptroller of public accounts, treasurer, commissioner of the general land office and attorney general."

This article goes on to specify that all of these officers (except the secretary of state) are to be elected by the people. Further, it provides a fair bit of detail on the powers and duties of these officers.

Article XIV provides for a General Land Office for registration of land titles. This article allows the legislature to create subordinate offices within the General Land Office, and it commands the legislature to make this office "self-sustaining" at its earliest opportunity.

Despite the greater specificity of some of the offices that constitute the bureaucracy, the framers could not have envisioned a state administrative apparatus that today employs approximately 1.16 million people full-time, plus about a quarter of a million part-time workers. [3] Indeed, as the chapter on the Texas Constitution points out, the framers were very much concerned about controlling the growth of the state government apparatus and related expenses, and would have been distraught to see that their efforts were less than successful.

3.2 The Bureaucracy in Contemporary Texas

The framers of the Texas Constitution could not have foreseen the expansion of authority that modern Texas society has required of the state's public bureaucracy. Despite belonging to a relatively weak government compared to other states, the Texas bureaucracy commands considerable resources, touches every citizen in multiple ways in their daily lives, and influences the course of economic and social development in the state.

Of equal concern to the framers was the accrual of power in the government, yet here again the framers would have been dismayed to see that the Texas bureaucracy has acquired considerable quasi-legislative and quasi-judicial authority, in addition to its core executive responsibilities. We have noted the limited time and ability of the legislature to spell out every last detail related to the implementation of the laws that it proposes in the Legislative Branch chapter. As a consequence, it frequently falls to the bureaucracy to assume all of the functions of government (legislative, executive, and judicial) in order to implement policy.

It is left to the bureaucracy and its experts on specific areas of public policy to fill in the details of legislation authored in the Capitol. This is commonly referred to as rule-making (as opposed to law-making, which is the responsibility of the legislature).

Since policy implementation can be exceedingly complex and require an extensive physical presence throughout the state, the bureaucracy is often also responsible for enforcement, also know as rule-implementation. When disputes arise over the rules that have been implemented, bureaucrats also make judgments about the correct and incorrect ways to interpret rules - a function we know as rule adjudication.

These dynamics have led observers to describe the implementation of public policy as composed of three basic activities that are roughly parallel to the functions of the three branches of government. Rule making corresponds to the legislative function of lawmaking. Rule implementation corresponds to the activities of the executive branch in carrying out policies and laws. Rule adjudication resembles the judicial branch's actions interpreting laws and resolving disputes.

As discussed above, all three of these functions are commonly brought together under the same roof of the specific bureaucratic agencies in charge of each area of public policy. The key deviation of this arrangement from the ideal of representative democracy, is that the vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of members of the bureaucracy are not elected, either directly or indirectly.

3.3 The Policymaking Process

Though the implementation of public policy is the most visible and obvious part of the policy making process for the bureaucracy, it is only one of several phases. Making public policy encompasses additional processes that stand outside of the three core functions of policy implementation (rule making, rule implementation and rule adjudication) discussed in the last section. To gain a fuller understanding of the role of the bureaucracy in the political system, we need to place the implementation of policy in a broader context.

In most models, the policy-making process includes the following five steps, as this chapter's diagram Policy Making and Policy Implementation illustrates:

  1. Agenda setting

  2. Policy formulation

  3. Policy adoption

  4. Policy implementation

  5. Policy evaluation

We reflexively view implementation as the core function of the bureaucracy. Regulatory agencies inspect workplace safety or automobile emissions, for instance, while other types of departments or agencies develop programs to provide public services to the citizens of Texas, including social services, education, highways, etc. So the first question that might arise from this model is: why is the bureaucracy engaged in the agenda setting, adoption, evaluation and review of public policies? Isn't that why we have a legislature?

While the legislature is charged with making all laws or statutes, the bureaucracy usually must take the general enabling legislation created by the legislature and build real programs and administrative rules for implementing corresponding public policy. When the enabling legislation deals with regulation (e.g., regulating environmental quality or building standards), the bureaucracy's authority to develop programs and rules is critical to carrying out the letter and the spirit of the law.

But bureaucracies inevitably become involved in actual policy making as they develop experience, accumulate information, and gain expertise on matters of public policy. This experience enters not only the policy implementation process, but also the process of review, assessment, and revision. Any organization, whether public or private, must evaluate and revise its policies and programs in order to continue to thrive, or at least survive. This can happen on a variety of different levels, from individual evaluation and revision of how best to execute a specific task or job, to agency-wide evaluation. In Texas, organization-wide evaluations generally occur on an annual or biennial basis, depending on the agency. Much review follows the biennial rhythm of the legislative session and state budget-making, so that internal bureaucratic review is coordinated with legislative oversight.

Somewhere in between the daily evaluation and revision on the individual or group level and the organization-wide scheduled evaluation of the bureaucracy lies an incremental approach to program evaluation and revision. This approach was referred to in an influential article written more than four decades ago as "muddling through," as this chapter's feature The Science of Muddling Through discusses in more detail.

Whatever the combination of types and frequency of formal and informal evaluation and revision, the policy process that begins with proposed ideas and ends with revisions becomes a series of cycles over time. The policy process starts with new ideas, but once policies are implemented, subsequent policy cycles occur as revisions of earlier policies. Many policy proposals and the processes they spawn, consequently, are revisions of earlier policies. As an example, consider the reorganization of the state's health and human services bureaucracy discussed in section 1.1. Though the state health bureaucracy emerged from the 2003 proposals in a new form, most of the new policies and programs were revisions to previous policy and program initiatives that were well established within the state's public policy system.

The policy process in Texas is also shaped by the political organization of the executive branch, which elects several bureaucratic leadership positions, as the Executive Branch chapter explains. Evaluation and revision might be even more commonplace in Texas, where many of the major executive positions are elective. Elected executive officials come into office seeking to create changes that can subsequently be identified as major personal innovations when the next election comes around. Thus, despite the unelected status of most of the public bureaucracy, the policy process that takes place inside the vast administrative apparatus inevitably has political dimensions - that is, it involves competition for resources and influence. These political dimensions of the process, equally inevitably, lead to recurring calls for some degree of control and accountability over the bureaucracy.

4. Bureaucratic Power and Accountability

The influence exercised by the bureaucracy in the making and implementing of policy makes it necessary to view the bureaucracy in explicitly political terms. The ideals of impartial and expert decision making notwithstanding, bureaucratic agencies and the individuals that staff them function within highly political contexts. Recognition of this context has led to the creation of various means of making bureaucracies accountable via oversight and other kinds of checks on the bureaucracy's freedom to act. This section examines accountability efforts exercised through the legislature, the sunset review process, interest groups, the governor, and the general public.

The broad array of actors and entities involved in monitoring the bureaucracy underlines the degree of political maneuvering to which bureaucratic agencies are subject. Individual bureaucratic departments and agencies must enjoy political support from various constituencies if they are to survive and grow - that is, if agencies are to maintain funding, legislative approval, and public support. Consequently, the bureaucracy as a whole is necessarily engaged in politics as well as in policy. The link between accountability and politics is one of the main factors grounding the ideal conceptions of the rational-legal bureaucracy discussed in section 2. Politics does not make it impossible to have a neutral, expert, non-partisan bureaucracy. But participation in the political process often creates distinct pressures on the bureaucracy, as the subsections below discuss.

4.1 Legislature

Even though the bureaucracy is part of the executive branch, it is more responsive to the legislature, since the governor in Texas does not enjoy as much direct command of the various agencies as do chief executives in many other states. In all state governments and the federal government, the legislative branch wields perhaps the most important tool of both power and control over the bureaucracy: the power of the purse. Legislatures' constitutional authority to determine the budget for state government fundamentally affects the bureaucracy.

Bureaucratic agencies have powerful incentives to be attentive to the wishes and concerns of legislators who may have an interest in their turf, of committees charged with jurisdiction over their policy area, and of the Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor in his or her guise as leader of the Senate. Absent other outside factors (such as overall budget shortages), legislative satisfaction with an agency's performance can be expected to result in the rewards of sufficient resources to fund ongoing programs and maybe even some new programs. An agency engaged in activities deemed undesirable by key legislative decision makers risks losing funding for those activities.

The legislature can also pass laws that create, alter or eliminate programs. The committee system within the legislature is particularly oriented toward this sort of control. For example, should a legislative committee with policy control over a particular area of the bureaucracy decide that a particular program is ineffective or poorly administered, it can recommend budget provisions that reduce funding, perhaps even to zero. In most cases, the House and the Senate defer to committee recommendations in such specific matters. Employees in the bureaucracy whose career success or even employment may depend on such programs can be expected to be very interested in such legislative decision making. They have powerful incentives to make sure legislators with jurisdiction over their policy areas remain satisfied with their agencies and its programs.

There is nothing inherently nefarious about this sort of oversight. This is actually the way things should operate in a democracy. The people's elected representatives in the government's most democratic branch ought to be able to monitor the activities of the executive branch agencies. But as with any political process, the results are not always rational or efficient. Both bureaucrats and legislators become personally invested in their own vision of good policy, which can sometimes become indistinguishable from their self-interest. In a system that consciously invites political actors to pursue their own interest, and assumes that these interests will balance each other out in the long run, gray areas are inevitable. As the next section explains, by the 1970s, worries about the process of legislative oversight led to a major effort to improve efforts to maintain the accountability of the bureaucracy.

4.2 Sunset Review

Until the 1970s, legislative oversight of the bureaucracy occurred on an irregular basis. The bureaucracy did not come under intense scrutiny unless something went noticeably wrong. One well-known analysis of legislative oversight compares two approaches to oversight, referred to as "police patrols" versus "fire alarms." [4] In essence, the article argues that legislators (members of Congress, in the article) are too busy to be constantly patrolling the bureaucracy like a police unit. To address this weakness in the oversight system, legislators set up mechanisms by which constituents of the bureaucracy may sound fire alarms when things go wrong.

Alarms are sounded, for instance, when new textbooks fail to appear in classrooms, or when regulatory agencies seem too zealous for the businesses they regulate. As the textbooks age, parents, teachers, and publishers complain about outdated learning materials. When businesses receive lots of stiff fines from a state agency, owners can be expected to sound the alarm with their legislators and in the press.

While this approach to oversight was all quite economical and at least somewhat effective, legislators and reformers sought a more systematic approach that was less dependent on the irregular sounding of fire alarms. Such efforts gained momentum in the wake of scandals in the 1970s on both the national and state levels (Watergate and the Sharpstown scandal, respectively). These efforts were also informed by a growing awareness that government had expanded at both levels (though certainly more at the national level than in Texas). A new tool was developed that more formally institutionalized legislative "police patrols." Sunset review provisions in the authorizing legislation for a particular agency or program require the automatic termination of agencies and programs after a specific date unless reauthorized. Nowadays, a large majority of states have some sort of sunset review process.

The sunset review process in Texas, established by the Sunset Act of 1977, is considered one of the most extensive within the United States. According to the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission:

Sunset is the regular assessment of the need for a state agency to exist. While standard legislative oversight is concerned with agency compliance with legislative policies, Sunset asks a more basic question: Do the agency's functions continue to be needed?

The sunset process is directed by a twelve-member body appointed by the Lieutenant Governor and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Assisting the Commission is a staff whose reports provide an assessment of an agency's programs, giving the legislature information needed to draw conclusions about program necessity and workability.

The Sunset Advisory Commission has a busy schedule. It is responsible for the regular review of approximately 150 departments, agencies, boards, and commissions in the state government of Texas. During the 80th legislative session alone, it reviewed and made recommendations to the legislature on twenty such organizations, and in the 81st legislative session it will do the same for 27 state government organizations.

The sunset review process in Texas is considered effective, a result of several factors, including strong legislative support and the fact that all state agencies are subject to this type of review. The 80th Legislature (2006-2007) adopted the majority of changes recommended by the Sunset Advisory Commission. Representatives passed legislation that affected 19 state agencies and boards, resulting in approximately $56 million in projected savings and revenue gains over the subsequent two years. [5]

4.3 Interest Groups

The legislative power to control the bureaucracy can be offset or supplemented by pressure elsewhere in the political system. One of the more important sources of support or opposition to the doings of bureaucratic departments and agencies is interest groups, particularly well-financed interest groups that are focused on narrow areas of public policy.

Well funded interest groups can use a variety of tools to shape and influence the bureaucracy. Perhaps the most powerful tool these groups use is support (financial and otherwise) for the political campaigns of the various officials who run for the top jobs in the executive branch: governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, etc. They can also seek to influence gubernatorial appointments to some of the hundreds of appointive positions on the 200 or so state boards and commissions. Appointment to the more powerful boards and commissions often requires significant support in the form of campaign contributions to the governor.

Interest groups can directly influence the bureaucracy in other ways, including offering private sector employment to cooperative public servants. This phenomenon by which bureaucratic officials leave public service to work for the very companies and people they used to regulate or otherwise oversee is known as the revolving door. Nice jobs in the private sector might be seen simply as payback for previous cooperation from public employees. But the dynamic of the "revolving door" is typically more complex than mere payback or cashing in. Former public officials have a lot to offer their new employers, including a wealth of expertise on relevant subject matter and governmental processes, plus personal contacts that are a - some would say the - core asset to doing successful political business in Austin.

Interest groups also seek to use their influence in the legislature to affect the bureaucracy. As discussed earlier, the legislature has the ultimate constitutional authority to regulate the bureaucracy. Interest groups provide a wide variety of goods and services to legislators in exchange for favorable action on state programs. For example, they often provide jobs to retiring legislators and those defeated in elections. On a day to day basis, they often draft language for bills that are introduced in the legislature, providing a service to overworked legislative offices while giving interest groups a shot at shaping the law they want right from the start. Not surprisingly, when asked about their relationship with interest groups, legislators often suggest that lobbyists are simply good sources of information that inform independent decision making. In a Texas Politics video interview (also presented in the Interest Groups chapter), Representative Geanie Morrison (R-Victoria) cited lobbyists and interest groups as essentially one source of information among many.

The various tools and techniques (including personal and professional relationships) that interest groups use to influence bureaucratic decision-making has caused considerable cynicism about whether bureaucratic agencies serve the general public or only powerful narrow interests. One answer to this question comes from the so-called "capture theory" of regulation which holds that agencies create and enforce rules in ways that most favor the groups or organizations they are supposed to be regulating.

This notion implies that the individual regulatory agencies of the government have been carved out by the most powerful interests concerned with each area of public policy. Rather than forming a coherent whole, the bureaucracy in this view is really a collection of fragmented and isolated bits, each dominated by one or two major economic interest groups. As discussed in the Interest Groups chapter, a number of factors give interest groups with concentrated resources and focused interests a distinct advantage in the political arena. These advantages also apply to dealings with the bureaucracy.

The preceding discussion identifies a series of bilateral relationships: interest groups with bureaucratic departments and agencies; interest groups with legislators (usually those who sit on key legislative committees); legislators with bureaucratic departments and agencies. The notion that there is a logical tendency toward close collaboration between specific interest groups, the bureaucratic departments and agencies that most impact them, and the relevant representatives and committees in the legislature underlies the concept of iron triangles. This concept is also illustrated in this chapter's diagram Iron Triangles, aka Subgovernments.

The concept of the iron triangle sketches in shorthand a more extensive debate over the interaction between government and private interests and its impact on public policy, particularly economic regulation. The Texas Politics feature Theories of Economic Regulation examines competing views of the relationships between private interests and government.

These debates can turn on relatively nuanced arguments over the degree of competition, but the larger debate goes straight to the heart of democratic practice. What smacks of anti-democratic collaboration to some seems to others like a logical result of common interests and expertise - an example of pluralism in action. Interpreting and understanding the relationships among bureaucrats, legislators, and the representatives of various interests remains difficult because the subject bumps up against the central theoretical debates over the nature of democracy and representation. The basic questions of who gets to exercise how much influence on the decision making process, and how, is often concerned with the branches of government headed by elected officials and on the dynamics of elections and campaigns. But the extensive role of bureaucracies in making and implementing policy means that bureaucratic activity broaches the same questions, and makes these questions perhaps even more difficult to answer definitively.

4.4 Governor

The governor has a number of important tools for controlling the bureaucracy including limited appointment power, rhetorical power inherent in the highest office in state government (the "bully pulpit"), the ability to promote legislation for public programs, and the line item veto.

Appointment power is limited for the chief executive of Texas state government, as many of the most powerful executive branch positions are elected independently of the governor. These independently elected positions include many more than those handful of offices specified in the Texas Constitution (lieutenant-governor, comptroller of public accounts, treasurer, commissioner of the general land office, and attorney general). They also include the Commissioner of Agriculture, the three Railroad Commissioners, and fifteen members of the State Board of Education. All three of these commissions and boards were create by legislative statute. The members of still other boards and commissions are appointed by the legislature and by boards themselves. This chapter's table A Taxonomy of Leadership in Texas Agencies describes the mode of leadership selection for different types of bureaucratic bodies.

Nevertheless, over time, the office of the governor has accumulated extensive appointment powers to literally hundreds of executive branch positions. Some are plum positions, while others more humdrum. Despite the variation in prestige and influence, these positions are highly coveted, and many confer substantial power over key areas of commercial regulation and state governance.

The governor's control over the bureaucracy and regulatory organizations through executive appointments may function in actuality as a means for special interests to capture specialized parts of the bureaucracy for their own benefit, to use the term discussed in the previous section. The governor of Texas has very limited power to remove officials once they are appointed, so once an official friendly to an industry is named to a regulatory board, an appointee may be able to defy the governor's will. Though governors are perpetually criticized for naming friends and associates to these positions, this autonomy provides an incentive to governors to name appointees they trust not to defy them.

The governor has two other powers for controlling the bureaucracy: the ability to call special sessions of the legislature and the line-item veto on spending bills.

At any time after the regular 140-day biennial legislative session, the governor may call a special session of the legislature. Once called, the governor can specify a considerable number of issues to be addressed by the legislature. The exclusive authority to set the agenda for these special sessions gives the governor considerable power. In the three special sessions called by Governor Perry in 2003, a total of forty-nine topics were "proclaimed" by the governor, including a long list of topics that impact or deal with programs and procedures in the bureaucracy. Among these topics were proposals to modify the organization, scope, operation, and qualifications for membership of a number of state boards and commissions. Special sessions were relatively rare during a couple of decades (the 1940s and the 1990s), but have been called relatively regularly throughout Texas history, as this chapter's feature Special Sessions of the Texas Legislature illustrates.

The line-item veto is an especially direct (if negative) means of controlling the bureaucracy. This authority gives the governor the ability to veto individual items from the biennial budget bill approved by the legislature. It is intended as a check on profligate spending by the legislature, but can quite easily be used to ensure the loyalty of the various bureaucratic departments and agencies in the executive branch, even those with elected heads.

Governor Rick Perry provided a particularly vivid demonstration of this power in June of 2003, when Comptroller of Public Accounts, Carole Keeton Strayhorn refused to certify the budget that was passed by the legislature and was to be signed by the governor. Under the constitution the comptroller must certify that each two-year budget is balanced.

Comptroller Strayhorn said the contentiously developed $117 billion biennial budget for 2004-2005 was about $186 million short of being balanced. Some days later Governor Perry used his line-item veto to eliminate approximately $212 million from the budget of the Office of the Comptroller of Public Accounts. Since the budget was now in balance, Strayhorn certified the budget. But their 2003 confrontation signaled an escalation in a conflict that would lead to a direct political clash in the 2006 gubernatorial election.

4.5 Citizen Influence on the Bureaucracy

Because of the great number of citizens in the state, their power over the bureaucracy tends to be much more diffuse than that of the legislature, governor or interest groups. Consequently, it is rare that individuals or unorganized groups set the policy agenda by proposing new programs or policies for analysis, discussion and ultimately implementation. Also, because they are relatively removed from the actual apparatus of policy formulation, unorganized individuals have difficulty "riding herd" to monitor proposals once they have entered the policymaking maze.

The general public experiences the same kinds of collective action problems in trying to influence bureaucracies as they do when trying to achieve other political goals. In short, most folks lack the concentrated resources and sustained interest - as well as daily interactions with policymakers - necessary to finely tune policy decisions. You can review the problems of collective action efforts in the Texas Politics Interest Groups chapter.

Despite these challenges, citizens can and do exercise both positive and negative control over the bureaucracy. Voters elect the six most senior officials of the executive branch, including the governor and lieutenant governor. Additionally, they elect the three members of the railroad commission, the agriculture commissioner and the fifteen members of the State Board of Education (SBOE).

Citizens also can communicate their demands and needs through their elected officials, including those elected to head the major state administrative departments. Their demands are strongest when they are focused, seeking policies that benefit a specific geographic area of the state, like where to build a new state prison. Narrow geographic or subject focus tends to make popular pressure more concentrated, energetic, and effective. If these demands are strongly felt and numerous, state legislators from that area also will be more likely to work hard to advance the cause.

On the individual level, citizen complaints about the quality of service constitute a steady stream of feedback and control (those fire alarms again!) on how well the bureaucracy is functioning. Citizens may use the specific mechanisms that individual agencies may create for channeling such feedback (e.g., customer service hotlines or electronic forms on agency websites), or they can register their concerns with their state legislators, who view such complaints as valuable opportunities to serve their voting constituents. Interceding with the bureaucracy on behalf of citizens in this way is known as casework.

The sunset review process also provides regular opportunities for groups of citizens to weigh in on the performance of government agencies. For example, the most recent sunset review of the Texas Ethics Commission in 2003 triggered public rallies by a range of groups dissatisfied with the design and performance of the commission. In this case, however, the sunset process resulted in only minor changes. The Texas Politics video feature Designed to Fail? (also featured in the Voting, Campaigns, and Elections chapter) contains footage of a rally organized by groups attempting to call attention to what they saw as the need to strengthen the commission. As discussed previously, in this chapter's section on the sunset process, the Sunset Advisory Commission website provides extensive suggestions for participating directly in the review process.

Citizen pressure to set the policy agenda in local county or municipal government can be much more effective than on the state level. Whether they're fighting property taxes, demanding new programs for local schools, seeking funds to refurbish local parks and playgrounds, or petitioning for "traffic calming" devices (previously known simply as speed-bumps), citizens often wield considerable positive ability to set the agenda and negative power to oppose or restrain local government. In turn, the increased influence over smaller scale decisions by elected officials also increases the possibility of influencing local bureaucracy.

The "Interest group tools and techniques" section in the Interest Groups chapter discusses various means of influencing government - techniques that can be readily modified for organizing efforts to influence state or local bureaucracy.

5. Structure, Size and Scope of Texas Bureaucracy

Examining some basic information on the structure, size and scope of activity of the state bureaucracy helps to illustrate how large and complex the public bureaucracy in Texas has become, despite the ethic of small government that pervades the state's political culture. The particular configuration of the bureaucracy, as mentioned above, is largely consistent with the underlying intent of the Texas Constitution and the political traditions in the state. The state bureaucracy has a decentralized and varied organizational structure. Its characteristics reflect efforts to disperse executive power, to meet a range of mandates in the state constitution, and to work within the framework of federal structures and mandates.

Yet, the state bureaucracy is much larger and more far-reaching in its activities than the framers of the constitution could ever have imagined. In fairness, they probably never could have imagined the vast and complex nature of the state's population and economy either. For example, the Office of the Attorney General was created to serve as the chief lawyer for the state. Yet in contemporary Texas, one of the largest day-to-day roles of the Attorney General's office is the enforcement of child support agreements, including the collection of delinquent payments, as this chapter's feature The Business of Child Support in Texas and Beyond illustrates. The Attorney General's office involvement in this area could not have been foreseen at the time the Constitution was drafted, and it is but one of many examples of how historical change has overtaken nineteenth century conceptions of the role and functions of government.

(The features describing the overall size and scope of the state bureaucracy from section 1 are included again on the right side of this page for easy reference.)

5.1 Structure: Leadership Selection

The decentralized nature of the Texas bureaucracy means that no single individual has overall responsibility for what the administrative arm of state government does. Not even the governor exerts complete control over the state executive bureaucracy, as we have seen in the Exective Branch chapter.

As is typical of state governments (in contrast to the U.S. federal bureaucracy), authority over the various departments and agencies in Texas is divided among a number of independently elected or appointed executives. This means that cooperation and coordination among these organizations is inherently difficult, often depending on the goodwill and sometimes self-interest of these executive branch leaders.

With over 200 departments, agencies, boards, and commissions, the Texas bureaucracy is both complex and diverse. Over the decades, incremental expansion and amendment to the original constitutionally specified structure (which left to the legislature many important details in building out the administrative apparatus), has left the Texas bureaucracy extremely complex. Indeed, there is no uniform structure across these numerous bureaucratic organizations, and there are numerous exceptions to the fundamental organizing principle of hierarchical authority.

For a general overview of the methods of leadership selection in the executive bureaucracy, this chapter's table Taxonomy of Bureaucratic Leadership (also presented in section 4.4 of this chapter) classifies the state administrative apparatus into three types according to how the executive leadership is selected and the number of persons occupying top leadership positions. The single elected executives are discussed in detail in the "Plural Executive" section in the Executive Branch chapter.

5.2 Size: Employees and Salaries

The State of Texas employed the equivalent of over 281 thousand full-time employees in 2006. This figure included over 251 thousand full-time employees and another 76 thousand part-time employees, whose total hours paid equaled approximately 281,722 thousand full-time equivalent (FTE) employees.

This means that in 2006 some 328,180 thousand people worked for the state, with most of those, almost a quarter of a million people, working full-time. These figures do not even count the number of other people who work for the state through outsourced or contracted services. Reliable figures on the number of private sector personnel employed by the state are difficult to find, but among the road builders and other construction services, office maintenance workers, business consultants, information technology workers, communications personnel, and others, the numbers must add tens of thousands of FTEs whose jobs are derived from the state.

The 312 thousand people working directly for the state government, plus the tens of thousands of FTEs in the private sector only begin to capture the extent of public sector employment in Texas. Local governments (counties and cities) in the state employed almost 1 million FTEs (987 thousand to be more precise), including 918 thousand full-time employees and another 157 thousand part-time employees, for a total of 1,075,000 people on local government payrolls in one form or other. Again, this number does not count the tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of FTEs of private sector employment generated by local governments.

Adding these figures together yields a figure of almost 1.25 million full-time equivalent jobs in state and local government combined, plus at least another 100 thousand FTEs in the private sector dedicated to public sector work. Just the FTEs working directly for state and local government represent some 5.75 percent of all Texans - more than one in every twenty - according to census data. The percentage would be somewhere around ten percent if it were based only working-age adults.

Large as these numbers seem, payroll costs represent only a fraction, though still a substantial sum, of total state expenditures. The annual payroll for state employees for fiscal year 2006 was approximately $12.6 billion, out of total state expenditures of $68.8 billion, making state payroll about 18 percent of total state spending. (Parallel to the numbers above, this does not include labor costs for those employed in the private sector working on state contracts.)

So the reach of state government is long and wide, even in a state whose dominant culture is decidedly distrustful of government, and where political candidates often gain applause by arguing that less government is better government. Of course, while many Texans want small government in the abstract, all of us also want more of those programs that we recognize as directly benefiting us. If we are students or have kids in school, we want more money and personnel for education. If we drive automobiles (and who doesn't in Texas), we want more money for highways and bridges. If we are worried about crime we want more police, prosecutors and prisons. So while big government is a bogeyman in the abstract, the issue becomes much less a matter of principle and more a matter of who wins and who loses when it comes to actually cutting government. Most people are willing to receive the valuable goods and services that government can provide while inviting others to lose services in the name of small government.

5.3 State Government Employment in Comparative Perspective

While the absolute numbers of Texas state employees and dollars spent on payroll are very large, they are not so large when compared to other states. Data gathered from the U.S. Census Bureau show that Texas ranked 44th among the fifty states in terms of numbers of full-time equivalent state employees as a percentage of the total state population.

According to these data, full-time equivalent employment with the state government equaled approximately 1.2 percent of the total state population. The other six states with lower state employment as a percentage of the population included two other states in the southwest region of the country, Arizona and Nevada. But, they also included two states from the old industrial and agricultural heartland, Ohio and Illinois, as well as Florida and California.

Generally, it seems that the largest states in terms of population are the ones with the lowest levels of state government employment as a percentage of population. Seven of the bottom ten states in terms of state public employment as a percentage of the population happen to rank as the top seven most populous states, including in descending order from most populous: California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

On the other end of the scale, six of the ten states with the highest ratio of full-time state government employment to overall population are also among the least populous states, with Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota, and Alaska heading the list in the top four positions.

So, what's going on here? It seems that economies of scale are at work. All states must provide a minimum set of services, including the core functions of democratic government (legislature, executive branch, judiciary), infrastructure (roads, bridges, etc.), public safety, and economic regulation. On top of these core functions, states also provide social services, public education, and environmental protection. The fixed costs in personnel needed to establish operations in each of these areas is substantial, while the variable costs in personnel of adding more capacity is somewhat less expensive. Very large states can establish powerful public programs in each policy area serving millions of people with proportionally smaller staffs. In short, once minimum staffing levels are achieved, adding the capacity to do more often costs less than setting up the basic organization.

These "economies of scale" keep Texas consistent with its small-government political culture, at least relative to other states. As this chapter's chart This Time It's Personnel illustrates, Texas is among the states with the smallest share of its citizens working for the state (1.3% in 2006).

5.4 Federal Government Employment in Texas

Even though federal employment within the state is independent of the state bureaucracy (except in instances of joint programs), its substantial size warrants a quick look.

Texas has ranked third among states in recent years (including the District of Columbia) in terms of total federal government employment, with almost 166 thousand federal employees working in the state. This does not count the tens of thousands of military personnel at Ft. Hood, home of two of the nation's ten army divisions, and other military installations.

While Texas ranks very high among the states, this again seems to be a result of the size of the state population. The percentage of the state population employed by the federal government is actually on the low end of the scale compared to other states. The District of Columbia and adjacent states have inordinately high percentages of their populations working for the federal government, an obvious result of proximity to the nation's capital.

These federal workers are employed around the state in government offices and facilities in almost every major city. One major source of civilian employment is the U.S. Postal Service. With approximately 690 thousand sorters, drivers, retail clerks, and delivery personnel distributed throughout the country, the postal service maintains a large footprint in every state.

Other federal departments and agencies also maintain a large workforce in the state including those in law enforcement, social security, healthcare, education, environmental protection, and more. Adding the number of federal, state and local full-time equivalent positions together equals approximately 6.5 percent of the total Texas population. As a percentage of total full-time employment, this figure would be much higher.

6. Federal Context for Policy-making and Implementation

The federal government has a direct impact on the creation and operation of departments, agencies and programs within the state government, even if the final form and reporting structures of those departments are largely determined by elected state officials. Much of the money allocated by Congress is distributed to state agencies, which actually spend the money Congress approves for specific purposes.

Not surprisingly, the states (or their localities) rarely receive money without strings attached, and state officials frequently must go to great lengths to meet federal requirements regulating how federal money is spent. Grumbling about federal requirements abounds, but the amounts of money that are transferred from the federal to the state governments make it very rare for state governments to say "no thank you." Nonetheless, politics and political culture at the state level can confound the incentives built into federal funding, as the Texas experience in recent years with the federal government's State Children's Health Insurance Program illustrates.

6.1 Types of Federal Aid to State and Local Governments

The considerable money that the federal government provides to state and local governments takes one of the following six forms.

  • Direct cash grants to state or local government units. These can take the form of either categorical grants for specific programs (like Head Start) or block grants for a general purpose or policy area (like education).

  • Payments for grants-in-kind. Examples include the purchases of commodities distributed to state or local government institutions, such as food for school lunch programs.

  • Payments to non-government entities when such payments result in cash or in-kind services passed on to state or local governments. One example is payments to the American Printing House for the Blind.

  • Payments to regional commissions and organizations that are redistributed to the state or local level. Examples would include programs such as the Panhandle Regional Narcotics Trafficking Task Force (which was disbanded in 2004) or regional commissions on environmental quality.

  • Federal government payments to state and local governments for research and development that is an integral part of the provision of public services. Examples are research on crime control financed from law enforcement assistance grants or research on mental health associated with the provision of mental rehabilitation services.

  • Federal revenues shared with state and local governments. These payments to state or local governments are computed as a percentage of the proceeds from the sale of certain federal property, products, or services (e.g., payments from receipts for Oregon and California grant lands) or are other collections by the federal government that are passed on to state or local governments.

These six types of support to states and localities exclude federal government payments to individuals, profit or nonprofit institutions not included above, or payments to them for services rendered.

The first of these types, direct cash grants to state or local governmental units, represent the most important single type of federal aid. Direct cash grants in turn can be divided into two types: categorical grant (for specific programs) and block grants (for general purposes or policy areas that might include a number of related programs).

Until the 1970s, categorical grants were the dominant form of direct cash grants. However, beginning with the administration of President Richard Nixon, many such grants began to be consolidated into so-called block grants. These changes were the centerpiece of a broader effort referred to as new federalism that sought to diminish the power of the national government over the states.

Primarily an approach to federal-state relations promoted by Republican Party presidents Nixon and Reagan, new federalism was an attempt to redirect the programs begun under the New Deal of the 1930s and more fully articulated in the post-World War II boom of the 1950s, when the resources of the federal government increased dramatically.

That approach to federal aid to the states and localities, commonly grouped under the rubric cooperative federalism, was perceived by some as overly restrictive and not always responsive to the particular needs on the local level. This might be true of some categorical grants, but in the end the continuing push and pull over the rules for disbursing federal funds ultimately results from the struggle over control of policy.

The federal government wants to ensure uniformity of policies and programs across the nation, and is constitutionally empowered to pass laws that overrule state policies. But states chafe at this federal preemption of state authority, in part because they don't want to be told what to do.

For the states, this concern is particularly acute when the federal government passes laws that require certain policy actions or enforcement (often requiring additional expenditure) by state and local governments, but without providing any additional funds. Such unfunded federal mandates, like the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law of 2002, only reinforce the perception among state officials that federal programs are often out of touch with the reality on the ground.

Under new federalism initiatives, many programs were decentralized in the belief that control over a program should be placed at the level closest to the people to be served, whether on the state or local level. During the Nixon Administration, for instance, many categorical grants were eliminated, while others were consolidated into block grants. This consolidation of categorical grants into broader block grants gave the states additional flexibility in designing programs. Instead of requiring that specific sums be spent on, say, teacher training, the states could decide on spending for specific programs as long as that entire block of money was spent on things related to education.

Categorical grants can be further divided into two types: project grants and formula grants. In each of these cases, the federal money must be dedicated to a specific program or use.

Project grant programs require that states and localities (depending on the program) submit applications in order to compete for federal money. States and local governments must complete detailed forms and supply extensive documentation on their proposed uses of available funds. After the submission deadline the federal agency running the grant program evaluates the competing proposals and makes final funding decisions. The U.S. Department of Education runs numerous such programs for classroom innovations, core programs, and special education. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also runs a number of programs for research and pilot programs.

In contrast, formula grant programs award funding based on a formula established by Congress in the enabling legislation. These programs provide money to all states and local governments that qualify under the formula. As long as the applicant satisfies the criteria, money is awarded - without evaluation of the quality of the project or program by the sponsoring federal agency.

Additionally, the federal government provides entitlement programs, which may distribute benefits through relevant state-level agencies or directly to individuals. All federal entitlement programs, whether they work through the state bureaucracies or directly with individual citizens, provide benefits to all persons qualified to receive them under the enabling legislation. Congress establishes the qualifications according to things like age, income and disability. Those individuals who satisfy the qualifications are entitled to the particular benefit, whether it is Medicare coverage or social security income, or some other benefit.

In the case of all three of these types of programs - project grants, formula grants and entitlement programs - some commitment and degree of decision-making by the state or local government is required. States and localities make their own decisions with regard to the size and shape of their bureaucracies. But these decisions occur within a complex network of incentives created by the federal government.

6.2 Federal Spending on Aid and the Shape of State Bureaucracies

While federal aid to the states does not completely determine the structure and shape of the bureaucracy in any particular state, it certainly does have an impact on the particular departments or agencies that are created (and funded), and on the funding levels of those departments.

So, what does the federal government spend its money on? Or, more appropriately, what does it wish the states and local governments to spend money on? In fiscal year 2006 almost half (46.9 percent) of the $449.3 billion in federal aid went toward health related programs like Medicaid. Another fifth (20.9 percent) went to "income security" programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), child nutrition, and food stamps.

Also, a little more than one-tenth of federal aid went to transportation (10.1 percent), to support programs like the highway trust fund and aviation. Another tenth went to housing and urban development (10.2 percent) to pay for such programs as community planning, public housing and more.

The federal government spent another 7.6 percent of its state aid in 2003 on education, a decrease of $3.5 billion from fiscal year 2002. These expenditures covered programs in special education, rehabilitative services, vocational and adult education, and a whole range of other programs.

Most of these expenditures flow through state-level departments and agencies, requiring the maintenance of sizable operations and numerous employees and directly influencing overall state and local expenditure in specific areas. In many cases, states and localities are not eligible for federal funds unless they supply matching funds or commit to supporting particular programs in other ways.

For the 2006-2007 biennium a little over one-third (36 percent) of Texas state revenues came from the federal government for a total of $47.0 billion over the two-year period. Given the size of these federal funds and the fact that they are distributed by specific federal agencies for use in particular areas, there can be no doubt that they shape what the Texas bureaucracy does and its overall structure. A quick glance at the major areas of expenditure in the Texas budget shows some parallels to the major categories of federal aid to the states and localities. Perhaps most noticeably the health and human services category (the largest area of federal aid to the states) is also the top area of expenditure in the Texas budget.

Education also represents a major area of federal aid to the states, and no doubt contributes to its second place rank in the list of major areas of Texas state government expenditures. Transportation also receives a major portion of Texas public expenditures (almost 9 percent), close to the proportion of federal aid to the states dedicated to transportation.

The chapter's tables Federal Aid to State and Local Government and Expenditures of the State of Texas by Function can be used to compare the amounts of federal money sent to the states, and how Texas spends its money, overall.

6.3 State-level Initiatives and Federal Programs

The flow of federal dollars to the states and localities is not determined solely by what the federal government wants, as if it were some sort of independent actor whose goals are determined in isolation from national and state-level politics.

The federal government is composed of a variety of contending and sometimes conflicting forces, including our very own elected members of Congress in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. State congressional delegations represent the various districts and states from which they come. By design, the laws, programs and ultimately budgets of the various federal agencies are significantly affected by politics and needs back home in each state and locality. This is how representation in government works.

This fact comes through clearly when we look at so-called earmarks, predetermined allocations of tax revenues for specific purposes. When they reach the states, such allocations become known as dedicated funds when they are incorporated into state budgets (much like that portion of Texas gasoline taxes dedicated to highway construction). On the national level earmarks refer to specific language that requires spending on specific projects, usually in a single district or state, inserted into bills. Earmarks are also known by another, more colorful name: pork.

The federal omnibus spending bill - a spending bill that includes funding for a wide range of departments and programs - for fiscal year (FY) 2004 offers some interesting detail about how efforts by lawmakers and local interests influence some of the federal spending in the states. Not all of this spending involves the state bureaucracy, but in many instances such funds find their way into the budgets of state agencies.

In the FY 2006 omnibus spending bill, many of the states with the biggest population grabbed the most pork via earmarks. The usual suspects, California, New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Florida all were among the top ten states in terms of the dollar value of federal earmarks. California alone received almost three-quarters of a billion dollars. This does not even count the many billions it receives through other federal aid. The other large states received anywhere from about one-quarter to over half a billion dollars. This does not even count the many billions it receives through other federal aid. The other large states received anywhere from about one-third to half a billion dollars.

But let's not fall into the trap of believing that the total value of each state's earmarks reflects the naturally greater needs of more populous states. Political factors in Congress affect these outcomes, too. More people also means more members in a state's congressional delegation, which means more political support (i.e., votes) in Congress for earmarks for that state.

Another important political factor in determining how much each state receives in earmarks is having powerful senators and representatives sitting on the Appropriations committee of each chamber of Congress. Alaska is a good example. It received the highest amount in earmarks in FY 2006, yet it has only about 650,000 residents, about the same number as live in metropolitan Austin (not even close to the largest city in Texas). At the same time as Alaska earned a large number of earmarks it also had Senator Ted Stevens (R), a 35-year Senate veteran who packed seniority and political clout into a powerful home-state advantage in the stampede for pork.

In 2011 Texas has one senator and three representatives serving on the respective Appropriations committees in the two chambers. Committee members get first crack at adding local projects to the 13 individual spending bills that are rolled up into one annual omnibus bill. Members with the most seniority and party leaders receive extra privileges, while rank-and-file members just pass wish lists to friends on the committee in the hope of getting a few crumbs. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) joined the Appropriations committee in 1997, and is the eighth highest ranking Republican (as determined by seniority) in the Senate. Her presence on the Appropriations committee and her very high seniority rank gives Texas an important seat at the (dining) table.

As this discussion and this chapter's feature A Selection of Earmarks for Texas illustrate, the considerable tide of money for local projects and programs under the direction of state or local bureaucracies often originates in the very state or local district where the money will be spent. Federal aid to the states and localities doesn't always reflect a coercive federal government's desire to shape programs on the lower governmental levels. Instead, states and localities use their influence in the federal government to get things that they want. As a result, state and local bureaucracies develop in ways that would not be possible without federal money - but the impetus for such development often comes from the states themselves.

7. Conclusion

Administrative efficiency and responsiveness to the public's needs have always been central concerns for any examination of the executive branch bureaucracy. Regardless of political orientation, we all have had personal frustrations with government agencies, even though we often look to them for the provision of individual services and the protection of the public interest through the enforcement of laws.

In the current environment of fiscal distress in the states, existing pressures to reinvent, redesign, or otherwise reorganize the bureaucracy may intensify. Changes to this fourth branch of government, however, will be only partial and limited, because the bureaucracy is subject to the overlapping control (through the constitution, and state and federal laws) of a broad range of institutions, interest groups and individuals. To return to the consolidation of public health and human services agencies in Texas discussed at the beginning of this chapter one last time, though several of the changes made were dramatic, they did not undo the multiple layers of control over these agencies. Nor did reorganization involve reworking the rest of the state bureaucracy.

Democratic institutions that rely on organized interest groups also work to prevent rapid wholesale change to the state bureaucracy. In Texas, as elsewhere, the bureaucracy has often been splintered and in some instances captured by particular interests seeking to secure a monopoly of control over the specific areas of public policy that most impact their economic well being. Whether it's highways, mineral extraction, agriculture, insurance, healthcare, manufacturing, or some other area, powerful interests will always find ways to secure public funding, state contracts, or favorable legislation - sometimes even at the expense of the public interest. The historically fragmented executive branch in Texas, another element of democratic institutional design, facilitates interest group influence over "pieces" of the bureaucracy.

More fundamentally, there will be many future attempts to "reinvent" government in an effort to respond to new challenges created in dynamic, diverse societies like the one in Texas, which is always in a state of ongoing transformation. These transformations affect the structure and functions of the bureaucracy, even as they are shaped by political as well as policy priorities.

Citizens can help shape the ongoing development of the bureaucracy in Texas, or particular parts of the bureaucracy. But it takes savvy, commitment to your cause, and a keen awareness of the time and resources it takes to mount such an effort. This chapter presents some of the fundamental knowledge about how the bureaucracy works and is shaped, which can help in developing that savvy. Marshalling commitment, time, and resources are the hard work of grass roots politics.

Texas Politics:
© 2009, Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services
University of Texas at Austin
3rd Edition - Revision 115
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