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How much of the buck that stops with the President has already been spent by the bureaucracy? (Clifford, 1990, p. 161)
The bureaucracy has evolved to the point where, at all levels of government in America, it plays a decisive role in public policy making. Politicians, the public, and political scientists alike are not only criticizing America's most maligned institution for its supposed inefficiency and ineffectiveness but are accusing the bureaucracy of being politicized and unmanageable. Perhaps Rourke (1992) best sums up the concern over politicization and the growing political power of the bureaucracy when he states, "The obsession of political leaders with responsiveness of the bureaucracy to their policy goals pays unmistakable homage to the fact that governmental power increasingly asserts itself through the decisions and actions of civil servants" (p. 544).
Although charges that bureaucrats tend to be ideologically liberal, policy activists, and Democratic loyalists and that the bureaucracy has become unresponsive to their political masters are commonplace, our understanding of the real nature and extent of bureaucratic politics and of the linkages between the politics and the performance of public administrators remains inadequate (Goodsell, 1994). This is especially true at the local level of government. As such, this study asks the following research questions in an effort to address these concerns:
1. What are the political beliefs of bureaucrats?
2. What is the nature and extent of their political activities?
3. What is the nature of the politics-administration interface, conceptualized herein by the questions "Do the political attitudes and behaviors of bureaucrats influence the way in which they administer public programs?" and "Do city politics and politicians have excessive influence over the manner in which bureaucrats administer public programs?"
The research questions are answered by means of a comprehensive survey research project that explores the political attitudes and activities of local bureaucrats in every municipality in the state of Alabama.
Bureaucratic "politicization" is multifaceted but can be conceptualized in two ways: (a) The bureaucracy is used by the executive or elected officials as a tool to forward personal or partisan political agendas and (b) the bureaucracy exercises discretion in administrative decision making to the degree that it ignores the intent of the policy, as developed by elected officials, or is unduly influenced by personal political objectives. As such, there are both external and internal sources of bureaucratic politicization. The reality of public administration is that bureaucrats often find themselves either intentionally or inadvertently involved in highly political and discretionary decisions and matters such as defending budgets, managing departmental reorganizations, interpreting public policy, and implementing programs under the constraints of limited resources. It is not surprising that bureaucrats are suspected of being "political."
Although there is little research focusing on the politics of local bureaucrats, there are parallel studies at the federal level. For example, in a study of 200 senior administrators in the federal government, Rothman and Lichter (1983) sought to test the notion that bureaucrats were liberal and politically active. They found some evidence to suggest that bureaucrats do tend to vote Democratic and are slightly more liberal than the cross section of American society; however, bureaucrats tended to be far from the liberal activists that many conservative critics made them out to be. Bureaucrats in older, traditional agencies (Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Treasury) were less active than those in newer, "activist" agencies (Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], Occupational Safety and Health …