The Administrative Service embraces all the permanent officials in the State, high and low, that is, a multitude engaged in clerical jobs of a routine nature and those actually concerned with administration, including the highest departmental adviser to the political chief of a great Department of the government.
The welfare of the State depends normally far more on the former than the latter. With their expert knowledge they help their political chief to see that the Department works efficiently and in a particular direction.
Lord Balfour has given a true picture of the position which civil servants occupy in Britain: “They do not control policy; they are not responsible for it. Belonging to no party, they are for that very reason an invaluable element in Party Government.
It is through them, especially through their higher branches, that the transference of responsibility from one party or one minister to another involves no destructive shock to the administrative machine. There may be change of direction, but the curve is smooth.”
The higher branches of Administrative Service make a significant contribution even in the determination of policy. The determination of policy is, no doubt, the work of the cabinet or, for that matter, of a Minister, but the preparatory work is the task of the department and in great part the result of the influence exerted by the members of the Civil Service at the top.
When the policy has been determined and finally sanctioned by Parliament, it becomes the duty of the permanent officials of the department to see that it is faithfully carried out. The men at the top, again, decide and instruct how best the practical fulfillment of the policy can be realised. The orders are made and given at the pinnacle. Then follows the chain of those who act on those orders and instructions and accomplish the results.
In short, these experts functioning at all points of political control and in hierarchies, embody knowledge and experience, exercise the profoundest influence on responsible ministers and chiefly determine the execution, if not also the inception, of policy.
The departments supply the details of statutes, many of which must necessarily be of the nature of skeletons, and by virtue of them perform not merely legislative but also quasi- judicial functions, often without publicity, without recognised rules of procedure and without further appeal.
The Administrative Service has been lavishly praised for its efficiency and exceptionally high rating. But it does not mean that it is perfect. There is evidence to prove that merit, in every country, has often been discounted and the evils of political patronage have not been quite so completely eradicated.
The nature of examinations conducted by the Public Service Commission’s is too academicals and the entrants are recruits with no knowledge of the department in which they are to be posted. Administrative Services carry with them all the defects of bureaucracy. Officialism and red-tapism are the rule and not the exception.
A certain amount of exactness is, of course, essential in the observance of regulations, but excess in this direction means multiplicity of forms and files and endorsements and records so that the transaction of business is impeded rather than eased.
Another danger inherent in bureaucracy is that of “departmentalism” the danger of splitting up the work of government into different isolated and self-dependent sections each pursuing its own ends.
This compartmentalisation results in departmental friction, as every Department plans only for its own betterment without any regard to efficient coordination with others. There is also evinced a tendency of self-aggrandisement and self-importance, because of the professional or expert knowledge of the civil servants. It breeds a narrow outlook.
“The exaggeration of the hierarchical principle makes one fear to do anything at all, when it is possible to shift the responsibility to someone above.” Such an attitude of mind produces a flood of paper work, unnecessary noting and a cloud of irresponsibility.
Centralisation also means that thinking can only be done by the head of the department, “the Commander-in-Chief.” This clearly shows that there must always be “anemia at the extremities and apoplexy or congestion at the brain.”
But it cannot be denied that there is almost a uniformly high quality of men and women who are attracted to the Administrative Service in every country.
Ogg, while giving a description of the British Civil Service, remarks that amongst the members of this service “some are impelled by a sense of civic duty; some are drawn by the prospect of a career in a field in which the way is open for talent and industry irrespective of family connections; some no doubt are appealed to by a profession which promises a steady and assured income, without much risk.”
The defects of bureaucracy officialism, narrowness of conception and departmentalism have been counter-balanced by ministerial responsibility in countries with Cabinet form of government. The Civil Service in these countries is very responsive to public opinion and its members adjust themselves to the changes of policy.
Then, there is an excellent esprit de corps which the service has always displayed and a commendable interest that it has exhibited for its own improvement.
The schools of Public Administration and societies of Civil Servants, which exist in every country, aim at maintaining the high ideals and traditions of which Civil Servants everywhere are justly proud. But it must be remembered that bureaucracy is like fire, which is invaluable as a servant but ruinous when it becomes the master.
Bureaucracy must be organised on a sound basis and control by Parliament must be proper and effective, if it is to remain a servant. Thus, the administration, and particularly the higher bureaucracy, must be constantly alert both about the purposes of the political leaders of the country and the needs as well as desires of the public.
This has become more necessary with the trend of policy making to pass to the executive branch. The emergence of executives as more influential than legislatures, as policy-makers than executors of the laws, has substantially increased the importance of the high-level administrators.