The bureaucracy is entrenched in rules and regulations. Many of those rules and regulations are created by the president or Congress in an attempt to control the bureaucracy, but others go against that purpose and end up making it very difficult to reform or control the bureaucracy.
The President of the United States is often said to be one of the most powerful people in the world and, indeed, that may be true. Along with everything else, he has the power to control, or at least attempt to control, many aspects of the federal bureaucracy in one of the world’s most powerful nations. He has most of the power over who gets what jobs in the bureaucracy because, although the senate has to approve most cabinet and bureaucratic appointments, who is appointed is first and foremost the president’s decision. Therefore, most major bureaucratic positions can be effectively “controlled” by the presidency. The president can also control the bureaucracy by issuing executive orders. Such orders can be very influential in determining policies of many bureaucratic agencies. Also, the president can attempt to reorganize the bureaucracy, as was done with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2002, and he has some say over the budgets of many bureaucratic agencies through his influence at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
Congress’ role in controlling the bureaucracy is more of a role of overseeing the bureaucracy. Congress can influence the appointment of agency heads by approving presidential appointments and influencing the president on who to appoint. In essence, Congress “oversees” the appointment process, but does not get to choose the appointees themselves. Since Congress is constitutionally in control of the nation’s purse, its largest role concerning controlling the bureaucracy is adjusting its budget. Congress can further oversee and control the bureaucracy by holding hearings on bureaucratic dealings to ensure they are in accordance with standards and the desires of the nation. Finally, Congress can write or rewrite legislation to clarify the roles of bureaucratic agencies and control the details of their dealings.
The control that Congress and the president have over the bureaucracy helps aid America’s system of checks and balances, but it is by no means absolute or easy. All of the legislation and rules already surrounding the bureaucracy tend to make further action difficult. For instance, there are many rules making it very difficult to fire any members of the bureaucracy. Therefore, if a president appoints someone whom they later disapprove of, it is very difficult to remedy the situation. Reforming the bureaucracy can be even more difficult because reform means there was something wrong in the first place and no one likes to admit being wrong. Therefore, large scale reformation of the bureaucracy as seen in 2002 is very rare and needs wide scale support from all areas of the government. In 2002, the reorganization that created the Department of Homeland Security was facilitated by the crisis of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. In general, there may be many avenues for the president and Congress to control the bureaucracy, but that doesn’t mean that such control comes easily.