Attempts at Reform
As long as there has been a federal bureaucracy, there have been complaints about its inefficiency, ineffectiveness, arrogance, and lack of responsiveness to the public's needs. Poll after poll has revealed that government bureaucracies consistently rank among the most unpopular institutions in America.
Over the past several decades, Congress has made several attempts to reform the federal bureaucracy and rehabilitate its image. The Government in the Sunshine Act of 1976 requires that federal agencies run by a panel of executives hold their meetings in public sessions. The only exceptions to this rule are personnel matters and court proceedings. Every other type of agency gathering — whether formal or informal — is required to be open to the public, or “in the sunshine.” This transparency has helped make some bureaucracies more responsive to Congress and the public.
Given the enormous size and complexity of the federal bureaucracy, the president's most useful tool in shaping bureaucratic policy is his power of appointment and removal. Presidents usually remove top officials hostile to their agendas and appoint ones sympathetic to their goals.
Recently, many states have begun to adopt “sunset laws” as a way to gain greater control over their bureaucracies. Sunset laws create a finite lifespan for a bureaucracy and automatically terminate it at the end of that designated period, unless the bureaucracy is specifically reauthorized by the state legislature. In order to be reauthorized, these bureaucracies must prove their effectiveness and merit. It's only a matter of time before Congress makes greater use of sunset laws.
There has also been a growing trend at the state and federal levels to privatize certain government functions. Supporters of this approach contend that the private sector can provide some services more cost-effectively and with better results. Some prisons, schools, waste management facilities, and homeland security functions have been privatized in recent years. There is a limit, however, to the public services that private companies can perform.