New York City Politics: Governing Gotham

By Bruce F. Berg | Go to book overview

9
The Municipal Bureaucracy

Bureaucrats and the Exercise of Discretion

The primary role of the city's executive branch is to implement the laws and programs created by the legislative branch in conjunction with the chief executive or responsibilities granted in the city charter. Since New York City is a unit of local government, some of the laws and programs being implemented or administered by its executive branch are created by the state legislature and governor. Bureaucrats whose function it is to implement and administer the law, and particularly those at the street level who interact with the public in the process of delivering a service, exercise considerable discretion in their implementation activities. Due to the choices that bureaucrats can make in the process of implementing the laws and programs of the city's political system, they can greatly influence the direction and shape as well as the success or failure of public policy. The concept of bureaucratic discretion has received considerable attention among those who study public administration and public policy because of its relationship to the issues of bureaucratic accountability and control. In democratic political systems, there is an expectation that important policy decisions will be made by elected officials who are accountable to the people. There is an additional concern that governmental power be applied in a “nondiscretionary manner so that the coercive powers of government cannot be exercised arbitrarily” or in a discriminatory way (Bryner 1987, 2).


The Roots of Bureaucratic Discretion

Bureaucrats have discretion because they are responsible for the implementation and administration of the laws and programs of the political system. The implementation function not only gives bureaucrats choices to make, it demands that they make choices. Classical theories of public administration were less concerned with the discretion that bureaucrats exercised as part of the implementation process because those theories suggested that the discretion was tied to how

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New York City Politics: Governing Gotham
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • 1: Introduction 1
  • 2: The Economic Development Imperative 20
  • 3: The State and the City 58
  • 4: The Federal Government and the City 88
  • 5: Racial and Ethnic Diversity 120
  • 6: Political Parties in New York City Governance 160
  • 7: The Charter, the Mayor, and the Other Guys 180
  • 8: The City Council 212
  • 9: The Municipal Bureaucracy 244
  • 10: Conclusion 281
  • References 293
  • Index 323
  • About the Author 339
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