The Differing Interests and Responsibilities of Politicians and Bureaucrats

The Differing Interests and Responsibilities of Politicians and Bureaucrats



The Differing Interests and Responsibilities of Politicians and Bureaucrats

In general, differing interests will naturally create tensions in any form of association. Irrespective of the nature of the relationship, both parties usually possess disparate vested stakes. Such stakes usually form a basis of conflict between both parties. In this respect, politicians and bureaucrats may have differing interests based on the responsibilities they assume in their respective governments. Accordingly, policies undergo selection and implementation by elected representatives as well as unelected bureaucrats (Meier & Bohte, 2007). The perception that politicians select policies, which undergo application by bureaucrats, is exceedingly simplistic. Based on the consistent ascent of the regulatory government, the bureaucracy also assumes a key role in the decision and execution of considerable legislation. Because of the near-transparent boundary between political and bureaucratic responsibilities, it is not surprising to experience consistent tension between politicians and bureaucrats. Therefore, addressing this issue requires identifying differing interests among politicians and bureaucrats in order to draw the implications that may arise from such tension.

Interests in the Political-Bureaucrat Relationship

Even though politicians and bureaucrats possess a certain degree of similarity based on the responsibilities they assume, certain aspects cover this correspondence by focusing overly on the disparate obligations they possess as well as the interests they possess within their respective circles. One common aspect involves accountability. Accordingly, the key disparity between politicians and bureaucrats is evident in the manner they are accountable. Firstly, elections hold politicians answerable concerning the way they appeal to their voters (Hupe & Hill, 2007; Meier & Bohte, 2007). On the other hand, bureaucrats experience accountability from their professional peers as well as the public based on the way they have gratified the aims and objectives of their firms. Due to these dissimilar accountability approaches, one is able to understand the tension that may arise among politicians and bureaucrats within their respective government.  

Undeniably, these different answerability approaches have the ability to facilitate different interests. This is because of the pressure that both politicians and bureaucrats experience because of the need to deliver their obligations effectively in the respect of their stakeholders. Nonetheless, accountability mechanisms also possess the capability of inducing incentives (Hupe & Hill, 2007). For politicians, motivation may arise from the objective of pleasing the electorate and the outcome of triumphing in the elections. For bureaucrats, the incentive may arise from the need to gratify career concerns or to augment internal satisfaction based on the duties they are required to perform. In terms of career concerns, bureaucrats may gain the motivation to seem competent in order to enhance their outward professional prospects within the private or public sector (Hupe & Hill, 2007). Additionally, bureaucrats may gain the drive to perform their tasks competently and effectively in order to illustrate their commendable expertise and satisfy their inner character.

Tensions in the Political-Bureaucrat Relationship

Therefore, since politicians and bureaucrats possess differing incentives, it is possible to perceive tensions, which may arise from their respective relationship. Such conflicts may originate if the decisions reached by bureaucrats (policy implementers) restricts the politicians (policymakers) from fulfilling their incentives and specific obligations. Based on this, it is correct to define the political-bureaucrat relationship as a Principal-Agent relationship (Meier & Bohte, 2007). In this respect, tensions that may arise from this relationship may involve the insufficient gratification of politicians. Accordingly, politicians are usually responsible for the creation of policies. In addition, these policies are usually for the benefit of the collective good. Based on this, politicians focus on creating effective policies that fulfill the needs and demands of the public. The effect of gratifying the public’s needs translates into less accountability on the respective politician. Less accountability may lead to the considerable exhibition of favor towards the politician.

However, since bureaucrats are responsible for the implementation of these policies, then they have an opportunity to reconsider the application of the respective policy for their own gratification or for the benefit of the respective government (Meier & Bohte, 2007). Because of this, conflict may arise between both parties. In this respect, the bureaucrat may refuse to implement the politician’s policies. This is because he or she is not concerned with fulfilling the desires of the public. In addition, the bureaucrat also stands to gain satisfaction or fulfill his or her career concern if he or she pleases the government or the respective organization. Therefore, due to these different interests, tensions become apparent within the political-bureaucrat relationship. In addition to this, bureaucrats become less accountable if they fulfill the obligations of their respective government at the expense of the politician and the public.

Implications on Public Management

Due to the tensions that originate from the political-bureaucrat relationship, the implications that undergo imposition in public management are far more negative than positive. Accordingly, since bureaucrats do not concentrate overly on public gratification, the policies that they implement may impose a detrimental impact on the public sector. For instance, the public sector may face instances in which development is restricted based on bureaucratic influences (Clarke, 2010). For instance, a directive such as the fiscal policy may be considerable unpopular among bureaucrats based on the considerable consequence it imposes on the government in terms of public spending. However, since government relies on the circulation of income, which arises from consumer spending, then it is impossible to restrict the fiscal policy. However, in an instance that requires increased spending apart from the recommended, then it is possible for bureaucrats to reject such a policy in order to support the government and gain internal satisfaction.

Further negative consequences on public management based on the conflict between politicians and bureaucrats. For instance, the tension between these parties has led to the deterioration of the public sector as an important institution within the society. Accordingly, politicization of public processes is apparent based on the actuality that bureaucrats are unrestricted from protecting the government by applying extreme measures. However, the paradox of this move is that the bureaucrats undergo parliamentary inquiries by the same government they secured (Clarke, 2010). In addition to these consequences, there is also evidence of increased internal restrictions on policy documents. Such controls focus on eradicating the probability for prospective political humiliation if the documents are availed to the public.  Because of such actions, politicians and the respective public sector continue facing increased accountability and inquiry based on the policies they created due to the influence of the bureaucracy.


In conclusion, the differing interests and responsibilities between the political entity and the bureaucracy are responsible for the conflicts evident in the creation and implementation of policies. On each side, both parties are predisposed towards the gratification of their needs. However, the overlapping obligations of the bureaucracy has led to undemocratic and increased politicization of policies aimed for the better management of the public sector. Nevertheless, it is imperative to construct renewed approaches that will ensure considerable cooperation between both entities in order to enhance public management. Such approaches will focus overly on the doctrines of neutrality and transparency within public service. Based on such efforts, the novel basis of the political-bureaucrat relationship will be solely on the propagation of democracy and good public management.


Clarke, J. (2010). Public management or managing the public? Public Policy and Administration, 25(4), 416-433.

Hupe, P., & Hill, M. (2007). Street-level bureaucracy and public accountability. Public Administration, 85(2), 279-299.

Meier, K. J., & Bohte, J. (2007). Politics and the bureaucracy: Policymaking in the fourth branch of government. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.

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