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Career Bureaucrats Have More Power Than Political Appointees

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There is the assumption that it’s the political appointees who run things or change things or are the real power players in DC. My experience has always been that the real power in DC is the persistent class of senior bureaucrats just below the political level. The appointees typically last about 12-to-18 months, getting up to speed for most of that period and–maybe–having some actual impact if they’re quite focused in their goals. Otherwise they come and go, leaving nary a trace. They may think they run things and we may hold them ultimately responsible, but the truth is they’re more powerless than powerful.

The reality is not the change factor associated with new appointees in an active sense but more in a passive sense: it’s not what leadership they bring but what leadership-from-below that they allow.

This article cites two schools of thought on appointees:

One . . . argues that lots of political appointees can sweep away bureaucratic cobwebs. The other suggests that appointees mostly get in the way of the career professionals who really know how to make government work.

My experience definitely tends to the latter view. I mean, there’s just no comparing the knowledge base and wisdom.

2 responses to “Career Bureaucrats Have More Power Than Political Appointees

  1. Pingback: Introsphere roundup: June 13 – June 30 | The Second Estate

  2. Giovanni Dannato November 1, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    Even if a government is overthrown, often not much changes if all the same officials stay in power.
    I.e. Mubarak in Egypt.

    We might see how W. era policies have persisted through the Obama administration.

    We can also note how Franco’s Spain seemed to change little after Franco himself died because all the same ministers were still in power.

    Perhaps the most important and lasting power of any single elected official or even a dictator is their ability to make appointments.

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