What Is the Role of the Federal Bureaucracy?

The federal bureaucracy handles the implementation of laws, regulations and policies. There are more that 2,000 agencies and organizations in the federal bureaucracy. Bureaucrats are also responsible for organizing their agencies and interpreting laws.

When examples of the executive branch are given, most material discusses the president and the presidential cabinet, and the branch can seem somewhat small. However, government agencies and other organizations fall under the executive branch as well, and the total number of employees is high. The federal bureaucracy is needed to enforce laws, make judgments about its interpretation and provide a means for people to interact with the government.

In general, bureaucratic agencies are self-organized. While laws might have some broad guidelines, senior-level bureaucrats are responsible for organizing agencies and handling day-to-day operations. As a result, different agencies can have vastly different means of operating.

Bureaucrats are also responsible for interpreting laws and making judgments. Most laws are specific about how they should be implemented, but there are almost always grey areas that demand interpretation. The IRS hires agents who look through tax returns and try to find problems, and these agents have to determine which expenses are deductible. While lawmakers can clarify these laws by passing legislation and courts can override bureaucrats, agencies have a considerable amount of power.