The Basics of American Government 3E

Chapter 9: Executive Agencies

Read or download the textbook here.


by Barry D. Friedman

Woodrow Wilson's cabinet, from the Presidential Library Archives in Staunton, VA [No restrictions], via Wikimedia CommonsArticle II, Section 3, of the Constitution empowers the president to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” Executing the thousands of laws that Congress has enacted requires the work of more than one official, so an enormous administrative apparatus (commonly referred to as the “bureaucracy”) is in place to execute the laws under the president’s supervision. During the more than 230 years since the Constitution went into effect, the administrative establishment has grown piecemeal, with a wide variety of institutional forms (such as departments, multi-member commissions, government corporations, and other types) that have been installed for sound or arbitrary reasons. The officials who are appointed to serve in the executive branch obtain their jobs in a variety of ways: sometimes based on rewarding loyalty to the president and sometimes based on installing the most qualified individual. While the president struggles to cause his subordinates to take direction from him, he discovers to his chagrin that bureaucrats – to serve their own interests or to hold on to their jobs – routinely act, instead, to indulge members of Congress, clientele groups, and others who are just as adamant as the president about their own interests that, they are convinced, ought to be served by the administration.

Federal Communications Commission [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Chapter 9: Executive Agencies

I. Introduction to the Executive Branch
A. Article II is silent about the organizational structure of the executive branch
B. The Constitution left it to Congress to decide
C. Congress established three original departments, beginning the President's Cabinet
II. The Structure of the Administrative Branch
A. Departments and Bureaus
1. Three original
2. Bureaus and Bureaucracy; Agencies and Departments
3. Today, the national government has 15 departments
4. Cabinet seniority determines the order of presidential succession, a er the vice president, speaker of the House, and president pro-tempore of the Senate.
B. Executive Office of the President
1. Budget and Accounting Act of 1921
2. Brownlow Committee – 1937
3. Executive Office of the President
4. Office of Management and Budget
C. Regulatory Institutions
1. Regulation
2. Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC)
3. Rules and regulations that have the force of law
4. All three major powers of government
5. Economic regulation
6. Independent Regulatory Commissions
7. Rathbun (Humphrey's Executor) vs. United States
8. Independent Executive Agencies
9. Social regulation
D. Public Enterprises
1. Purpose of these institutions is to sell goods and services
2. Users pay for the cost of goods and services (not the taxpayer)
3. Examples: United States Post Office, Tennessee Valley Authority
III. Quasi legislative and judicial powers
A. Quasi judicial- make decisions in individual cases (such as determining deceptive advertising)
B. Quasi legislative—they make rules that apply to all classes of people
C. Economic Regulation- issues that shape industry (banning certain business practices)

Federal Communications Commission [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

IV. How Executive Branch employees obtain their jobs
A. Partisan appointment
1. Patronage system ("spoils system")
2. Civil Service Act of 1883
B. Professional and Clerical Positions
3. General Schedule Classification System (GS)
4. Merit system – federal civil service
C. Uniformed Appointment
1. Military service/ranks
D. Impartial Appointment
1. Federal Wage system (WG)
V. The Principles of the Bureaucracy
A. The major difference between bureaucracy and business is that businesses operate for profit while government has to focus on fairness, accountability and the delivery of services.
1. Job SPECIALIZATION- every worker is assigned a specific job or task at which they become an expert (assembly line worker)---this supposedly ensures maximum productivity and expertise.
2. HIERARCHY of Authority- workers are organized by a strict chain of command (military like)—workers are coordinated in a rigid fashion
3. SYSTEM of Rules- well constructed rules are strictly enforced to ensure compliance with the organization’s mission and to provide consistent service
4. IMPEPERSONALITY of Operation- personal feelings should not affect decision making in a government organization—focus is on delivering public services with an impersonal focus---little wiggle room like in the private sector
B. Defiance of Hierarchical Authority
1. Oversimplicity of the Hierarchical Model
a. Congress and Oversight
b. Judiciary
c. Clientele Groups
d. Others
C. Grover Starling's Force Field Diagram

Max Weber in 1917 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Max Weber in 1917.


Test Your Knowledge

How well do you understand the concepts and roles of executive agencies? Check your understandings using the flashcards below!



For Further Reading

Please see Chapter 9 References on pages 267-268 of the textbook for primary sources and readings.

History of the Presidential Cabinet by Jesse Greenspan.
The presidential cabinet has come a long way since Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson used to duke it out during the Washington administration.

To learn more about specific executive agencies, please visit's website, an official website of the United States Government.