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Politics and the Career Mobility of Bureaucrats*

  • Eugene B. McGregor (a1)


Career mobility is conceptualized in terms of the amount and bias of organizational, occupational, vertical and geographical movement. An operational measure is offered for the amount of mobility (not the bias) which permits comparative generalizations to be made about officials based on simple sampling procedures. For illustrative purposes, the amount of organizational mobility is measured for two samples of federal officials: David T. Stanley's sample (N = 557) of higher civil servants and a sample (N = 300) of foreign affairs officials. Several dichotomous background variables are included for both samples of officials including: age, rank, and education. Varying background characteristics is found to make only a small mobility difference for higher civil servants and a much greater difference for foreign affairs officials. Several speculations are offered to explain the political significance of the empirical findings, and a comparative typology of career mobility is developed.



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An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Forty-Third Annual Meeting of the Southern Political Science Association, Gatlinburg, Tennessee, November 13, 1971. The author is especially indebted to Robert T. Daland, Paul Solano and Michael R. Stone for their comments and helpful suggestions in the preparation of this manuscript.



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1 Some of the most recent refutations of the politics-administration dichotomy include: Gawthrop, Louis, Bureaucratic Behavior in the Executive Branch (New York: The Free Press, 1969); Powell, Norman Responsible Public Bureaucracy in the United States (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, Inc., 1967); Rourke, Francis E., Bureaucracy, Politics, and Public Policy (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1969). For an excellent discussion of administrative policy making in the American political environment, see: Long, Norton E., The Polity (Chicago: Rand McNally & Company, 1962).

2 Rourke, pp. 50–55.

3 A classic analysis of this triangular alliance is found in Freeman, J. Lieper, The Political Process: Executive Bureau-Legislative Committee Relations (New York: Random House, 1955). See also, Seidman, Harold, Politics, Position and Power: The Dynamics of Federal Organization (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), chap. 2, “Executive Branch Organization: View from the Congress.”

4 Price, Don K., The Scientific Estate (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965).

5 For a discussion of the protection given U. S. Civil servants, see: Rosenbloom, David H., “Some Political Implications of the Drift toward a Liberation of Federal Employees,” Public Administration Review, 31 (July/August 1971), 420426 .

6 Mann, Dean E. with Doig, Jameson W., The Assistant Secretaries: Problems and Processes of Appointment (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1965), p. 7 ; Stanley, David T., Mann, Dean E., and Doig, Jameson W., Men Who Govern: A Biographical Profile of Federal Political Executives (Washington, D.C.; The Brookings Institution, 1967), chap. 4, “Tenure.”

7 Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government, Personnel and Civil Service, (Washington, D.C., February, 1965), Recommendation No. 6, and Task Force Report on Personnel and Civil Service, (Washington, D.C., February, 1955), chap. 3, “Strengthening Top Management: The Senior Civil Service.” For a recent defense of the “Senior Civil Service” see Lowi, Theodore J., The End of Liberalism (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1969), pp. 299305 .

8 See Van Riper, Paul P., History of the United States Civil Service (Evanston: Row, Peterson, 1958), pp. 549–59, for a discussion of the relationship of mobility to “representative bureaucracy.”

9 The problem of stagnation is discussed in Macy, John W. Jr., “Administrative Careers in the Public Service,” in Administrative Leadership in Government: Selected Papers, ed. Bowen, Don L. and Pealy, Robert H. (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan, Institute of Public Administration, “Papers in Public Administration,“ No. 32, 1959), pp. 4049 .

10 Two pieces, in particular, stress the mobility process as a positive contribution to career planning and development: Corson, John J. and Paul, R. Shale, Men Near the Top (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1966), chapters V-VII; and Van Riper, Paul P.. “The Senior Civil Service and the Career System,” Public Administration Review, 18 (Summer, 1958), 189200 .

11 Lowi, , End of Liberalism, pp. 71–72, 304 . In this view, government agencies are controlled by the relevant organized interests and not by any centralized authority exerting a national scheme of planning and administration.

12 “Higher Civil Service” data are taken from: “United States Higher Civil Service,” Principal Investigator David T. Stanley, The Brookings Institution, November, 1963, Inter-University Consortium for Political Research. The sample consists of 558 officials (one case was lost in this study) classified on the General Schedule at grades GS-15 to GS-18. A sample of 300 higher foreign affairs officials was randomly drawn from the 1966 Biographic Register. The sample consisted of officials who, as of 1966, worked for either Department of State, Agency for International Development, or U.S. Information Agency and who had attained a rank higher than or equal to GS-14, R-3. S-3, CR-3, or O-4. For an earlier discussion of the types of officials in the Biographic Register see: McCamy, James L. and Corrandini, Allesandro, “The People of the State Department and Foreign Service,” American Political Science Review, 48 (December 1954), 1067–82. For a general discussion of the higher civil service, see Stanley, David T., The Higher Civil Service (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1964). A discussion of the “supergrade” civil servants is found in John J. Corson and R. Shale Paul, Men Near the Top, and Cohen, Michael, “The Generalist and Organizational Mobility,” Public Administration Review, 30 (September/October 1970), 544552 .

13 While it seems reasonable that high immobility would lead to organizational stagnation—an undesirable condition, Oscar Grusky finds a negative correlation between rates of mobility and organizational effectiveness (i.e., the higher the rate of mobility, the lower the effectiveness): Managerial Succession and Organizational Effectiveness,” The American Journal of Sociology, 69 (July 1963), 2131 . A series of problems associated with high rates of mobility has also been reported in the British civil service, see: Brown, R. G. S., The Administrative Process in Britian (London: Methuen & Co., Ltd., 1970). pp. 5356 .

14 Downs, Anthony, Inside Bureaucracy (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1967), p. 99 (emphasis in original).

15 Ibid., p. 98.

16 Kaufman, Herbert, The Forest Ranger: A Study in Administrative Behavior (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1960), pp. 155–156, 215218 .

17 These conclusions agree with research on group behavior. The classic discussion of interaction group theory is found in Homans, George C., The Human Group (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1950); for a collection of research on the pressures toward conformity in groups, see Cartwright, Dorwin and Zander, Alvin, Group Dynamics: Research and Theory, 3rd ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), pp. 139211 .

18 For instance, see Presthus, Robert, Behavioral Approaches to Public Administration (University of Alabama Press, 1965), p. 111 .

19 For an application of a transaction flow model to mobility data, see: McGregor, Eugene B. Jr., “Education and Career Mobility among Federal Administrators: Towards the Development of a Comparative Model” (Ph.D. dissertation, Syracuse University, 1969). For a discussion of the logic of a transaction flow model, see: Brams, Steven J., “Transaction Flows in the International System,” American Political Science Review, 60 (December 1966), 880898 .

20 See footnote 12.

21 Not many officials do, in fact, attend either the National War College or the Industrial College which are run under the aegis of the Department of Defense. For a discussion of these two schools, see: Masland, John W. and Radway, Lawrence I., Soldiers and Scholars: Military Education and National Policy (Princeton University Press, 1957), Part 5, “Senior Military Education.”

22 Mann, , Assistant Secretaries, pp. 227231 .

23 See footnote 6.

24 Huntington, Samuel P., “Congressional Responses to the Twentieth Century,” in The Congress and America's Future, Truman, David B., ed. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1965), pp. 811 ; evidence for a surprising amount of congressional activity in policy making—particularly regulatory policy—can be found in: Lowi, Theodore J., “Four Systems of Policy, Politics, and Choice,” Public Administration Review, 32 (July/August 1972), 298310 .

25 See, for instance: Beer, Samuel H., Treasury Control (New York: Clarendon Press, 1957); SirBridges, Edward, The Treasury (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964). The reforms under which the Civil Service Department was created are discussed in Report of the Committee on the Civil Service to Parliament, Fulton, Lord chairman (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1968). The appointment of Sir William Armstrong as head of the Home Civil Service including the Civil Service Department, is illustrative of the kind of structured mobility we mean, since he formerly held the position of Joint Permanent Secretary to the Treasury. Caution must be exercised in comparing higher American civil servants with senior civil servants in Great Britain whose counterparts in the United States often are “in-and-outers” not contained in either sample of officials examined in this study; see: Neustadt, Richard E., “White House and Whitehall,” The Public Interest, 2 (Winter 1966), 5569 .

26 Putnam, Robert D., “The Political Attitudes of Senior Civil Servants in Western Europe: A Preliminary Report,” paper delivered at the 1972 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Washington Hilton Hotel, Washington, D.C., September 5–9.

27 For a general formulation of these relationships, see Freeman, Political Process. Also, see Maass, Arthur, Muddy Waters: The Army Engineers and the Nation's Rivers (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1951); Seidman, Politics, Position and Power, chapter 2, “Executive Branch Organization: View from the Congress;” Fenno, Richard F., The Power of the Purse: Appropriations Politics in Congress (Boston: Little, Brown, 1966), pp. 264–413, 564615 .

28 Most of these are taken from Mosher, Frederick C., Democracy and the Public Service (New York: Oxford University Press, 1968), p. 105 .

29 I am indebted to David T. Stanley for pointing out several of these examples to me.

30 Kaufman, , The Forest Ranger, pp. 181182 .

* An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Forty-Third Annual Meeting of the Southern Political Science Association, Gatlinburg, Tennessee, November 13, 1971. The author is especially indebted to Robert T. Daland, Paul Solano and Michael R. Stone for their comments and helpful suggestions in the preparation of this manuscript.

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American Political Science Review
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