Texas Bureaucracy: The Basics

The Texas bureaucracy consists of elected and appointed officials (including, but not limited to, the offices previously discussed) in conjunction with a wide range of around 300 constitutionally or statutorily created boards and agencies.  Some of these agencies include:

  • Department of State Health Services (DSHS)
  • Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC)
  • State Board of Education (SBOE)
  • Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC)
  • Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ)
  • Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT)
  • Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC)

Organization of the Texas Bureaucracy

Bureaucratic agencies are assigned responsibility for certain important functions.  These agencies are generally overseen by either an elected board consisting of members chosen through statewide election or an appointed regulatory commission consisting of members who were appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Texas Senate.  Agencies are often divided into subdivisions based specialization(s); each of these subdivisions tends to adopt a hierarchical structure that allows for a clear chain of command that flows from the top to the bottom.

Bureaucratic Staffing

Bureaucratic staffing consists of a mixture of popular elections, the patronage system, and the merit system.

Popular Elections

There are several key executive offices that are filled through statewide elections – including roles created by the Texas Constitution of 1876 (ex: land commissioner) and those created by the Texas legislature (ex: Agricultural Commissioner).  In addition to these key offices we have already discussed, Texans directly elect several other members of bureaucratic agencies, including SBOE members and RRC commissioners.  In theory, this allows citizens to hold these officeholders directly accountable; in this way, popular elections as a mechanism of bureaucratic staffing reinforce popular sovereignty.  However, this can open the door to potential conflicts of interest, particularly when it involves regulatory agencies.  As Price (2018) pointed out,

“The three elected members of the Texas Railroad Commission, the state agency charged with regulating oil and gas operations, have long gotten campaign money from the businesses they regulate . . . When an industry pays 56 percent to 65 percent of its regulators’ prodigious political bills, who’s regulating whom?”

Patronage System

Patronage politics refers to the use of state resources to reward individuals for political support.  The patronage system, then, involves selecting individuals to fill government offices on the basis of factors such as political philosophy or political loyalty.  The patronage system is used to fill key executive offices that oversee one or more large bureaucratic agencies.  Remember, most gubernatorial appointments are made on the basis of these criteria.  There are also members of the bureaucracy who are appointed by members of other boards and commissions; these boards and commissions often use similar criteria in deciding who to appoint.

The patronage system has several advantages, some of which we have alluded to in previous discussions.  Notably, the patronage system enforces party loyalty (which can, in turn, have positive impacts on civic engagement, including more robust voter turnout).  The patronage system can also reinforce the governor’s effectiveness at controlling the state bureaucracy – and, to the extent that the governor is truly operating under a popular mandate, it reinforces government responsiveness to the electorate.  The system is not without its disadvantages, however; in particular, it does not always promote the most efficient, effective operations because those who hold office are not necessarily the most skilled in a specific area, and opportunities for corruption can be commonplace.

Merit System

The merit system involves selecting individuals to fill government offices based on their professional qualifications and performance.  Merit systems are rooted in the principle of neutral competence, or the belief that while bureaucracy should understand and appreciate public opinion, it should ultimately operate in a professional and depoliticized manner as opposed to being the political arm of the governor or state legislature.  The majority of the jobs within our state bureaucracy – from directors of subdivisions within departments to administrative assistants to facilities management positions – are filled using the merit system.  These jobs have clearly defined duties and minimum qualifications documented in job descriptions, alongside clearly defined salary grades (maintained by the State Auditor’s Office, which is — you guessed it! — a bureaucratic agency).  These positions are advertised online for a specified number of days, as required by state law (the required number of days depends on whether the job is considered non-exempt from the Federal Labor Standards Act/eligible for overtime or exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act/ineligible for overtime).  Only those applicants who apply are considered for the job.  Each candidate’s qualifications are reviewed; competitive interviews with top candidates occur before a job offer is made.

“Since the heads of many agencies are elected, appointed by the governor, or selected by boards and commissions appointed by the governor, this guarantees ‘who you know’ is often more important than ‘what you know’” (Herzog, 2017).