Government Functions

Basic Governmental Problems.

Government has come to perform many function for social welfare through public welfare departments, but these, of course, are only a small part of its activities. As the one sovereign organization government is or may be concerned with the problems of men at all levels.

Problems of governmental reorganization and functioning constitute a major question of adaptation and adjustment. It cannot be supposed that the present procedures will be able to deal effectively with the complicated types of problems certain to arise in the future, indeed already upon us. Specifically the problems of government turn about the reorganization of areas, mechanisms, and authority; the recruitment of the necessary personnel for administration and leadership; adaptation of the techniques developed through the social sciences; the elimination of spoils and graft; the determination of the scope of governmental activity in the fields of general welfare, social control, and moralistic supervision of behavior; the determination of the amount of governmental expenditure in relation to national income, and the ways and means of financing the government’s operations; the position of the national government in its relations with other members of the family of nations; the development of liberty, equality and democracy, in the face of the concentration of great wealth in the hands of a few. Of major importance are the relations of government to industry.

Overshadowing all these problems is the final question as to how to develop a governmental mechanism which will serve the interests and ideals developing through the recent social changes indicated in this report, how to adapt the best in the American tradition to the changing forms of modern life.

Growth of Governmental Functions

Governments in general have been increasing in size and power. The only other great social organizations to compare with them in rates of growth are our economic institutions. This growth seems to have occured despite conflicting views as to what the functions of government should be. Some would restrict them to the minimum of agencies of protection, and resent any extension beyond the bare necessities of control and regulation. Other see government as a powerful organization which may be placed in the service of mankind in many different ways. The variety of governmental functions is amazing, when all types of government are considered, as is shown in several of the chapters which follow. Much of this extension has been through various administrative boards, which have been added from time to time and which eventually present a problem of coordination. Not many of these bureaus are discarded, although some, notably those of war time, have been dropped. The rate of obsolescence is greater for legislative enactments. Such an extension of the administrative side of government is probably one of the reasons for the enhanced power of executives and the administrative branches of the government.

In this field the most disquieting developments have been those of the intrusion of the graft system in the domain of the federal government, especially in the form of bootlegging, but also touching the Cabinet in the Teapot Dome case; and the rise of racketeering in certain urban communities. On the other hand notable progress has been made in many directions toward the strengthening of the public service in cities, states, and nation.

Evidences of this have been the development of a more powerful executive, both in leadership and in management, the rise of administrative boards with wide powers, the tendency toward consolidation of administrative power on all levels of authority, the efficiency movement in the direction of professionalization of the service, the use of modern practices in dealing with the problems of personnel management and governmental operations and the growth of organizations of administrative officials throughout the country.

At the same time large ranges of government have been dominated by avowed spoilsmen, corrupt, incompetent and partisan, or all three together, while graft and buncombe have been common; but on the whole notable advance has been made in the direction of increasing competence and integrity in governmental service, notably in fields like educational administration, recreation, health, and welfare, special phases of urban, state and national administration. Even in less promising fields such as police administration the beginnings of substantial and even surprising progress have been made in various localities.

The broad question of the relation of the democracy to the expert in administration has not been solved, but in recent years surprising advances have been made toward the establishment of more satisfactory relations. Whereas in the period 1830-1870 the spoils idea was universally accepted and even acclaimed, and whereas in the period 1870-1900 the principle of merit as against party service and of continuity in tenure was recognized, in the period covered by this study the expert has been recognized because of his utility and indispensability in the practical operations of the government. While expertness and administrative skill were by no means universally recognized and adopted, the new trend was strongly in this direction, and the indications are that this movement will continue with increasing momentum.

Source: Recent Social Trends in the United States, an examination of the social state of the United States at the end of the 1920s undertaken at the direction of President Herbert Hoover.