A Grammar of American Politics: The National Government

By Wilfred E. Binkley; Malcolm C. Moos | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XX
THE PRESIDENTIAL STAFF

AT A PRESS conference a few days after the 1936 presidential election in which the Republican candidate carried only Maine and Vermont, Franklin Roosevelt commented that he felt his opponent had failed to exploit the most vulnerable spot in his first term record--his weakness as an administrator. Although this frank self-indictment was momentarily overshadowed by more compelling issues of New Deal economic reforms, the remark does call attention to one of government's greatest contemporary problems--the problem of gearing administration in such a way that a conscientious executive can competently oversee the agencies responsible to him.

There were, in 1949, sixty-five departments and agencies that reported to the president. Even if this number were reduced two-thirds as recommended by the Hoover Commission, the chief executive would still have to be superhuman to handle unaided "the crushing burden of bringing all the units of the executive branch into harmony, and of fitting them together so that a unified program may be carried out."1 To facilitate this highly important overhead direction of administration by the president several agencies have gradually developed. Their work is government-wide and their primary purpose is to provide advisory assistance that will aid the president in both determining and carrying out the broad policies of his administration. Essentially the problem is like that of a single person sitting on top of a pyramid; unaided, be cannot possibly get a clear view of everything that is going on at the base or within. Nor is it sufficient that the different unit leaders within the pyramid report individually to the person on top. Such contact is helpful but it needs reinforcement. The person perched on top must have a few trained assistants who can keep a sharp watch on a particular function or group of functions common to all units

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1
Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government: General Management of the Executive Branch ( Washington, 1949), p. 11; The Hoover Commission Report. ( New York, 1949), p. 9.

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