In our first day on the Executive branch, we are going to discuss the machinery of the Federal government, its 15 major departments and its agencies, bureaus, commissions and administrations.
While “bureaucracy” often has a negative connotation, it simply refers to the apparatus, the structure of any large organization. Large companies have a bureaucracy, just like large governments do.
Non-partisan and non-discretionary are the two key terms. Non-partisan means the Executive branch should work the same and generate the same outcomes no matter who is in charge. Non-discretionary means that executive branch employees should make their decisions according to the rule of law not according to who knows who. There should be no favoritism in the Executive branch.
Hierarchies, specialization and formal rules are found in almost every large company. Even teachers are specialized, follow an employees handbook and are supervised by assistant principals who are part of a chain of command.
Roughly one of of six American workers works for some aspect of the government, whether it be federal, state or local.
The departments are listed in the order of their creation. Note that the Departments of State, Treasury, Defense (War) and Justice are the oldest and were created in 1789.
The State Department, because the the glamour associated with foreign travel, attracts many high achievers and a post there carries with it a lot of prestige. Important to distinguish between State Department career staff who have earned their positions through merit and political appointees who have earned their positions (usually ambassadorships to non-strategic nations) through political donations and patronage.
More than half of the federal budget is devoted to military-related spending, most of it awarded to private companies who bid for lucrative contracts. This connection between the armed forces and large corporations specializing in weapons is often referred to as the “military industrial complex”.
Note that the head of the DOJ is not a “Secretary” but is referred to as the “Attorney General.”
When the Treasury Department buys bonds from banks, it injects cash into the economy, increasing inflation. When the Treasury sells bonds, banks give it their cash which sucks money out of the economy, reducing inflation.
The Department of Commerce had a major role in breaking up the monopolies and trusts (thus the phrase “antitrust”) that dominated the American economy at the end of the Gilded Age (early 20th century). Since then, large corporate mergers still require Commerce approval.
As farming has become a smaller and smaller sector of the American economy, funding for food stamps has played a larger and larger role within the Department of Agriculture.
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