If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content
Current time:0:00Total duration:4:57

Video transcript

we have spent many videos talking about the three branches of government in the United States the legislative branch which passes the budgets and makes laws the executive branch which runs the government and the judicial branch that determines whether things that are happening are constitutional or not and can interpret the laws and when we talk about these separate powers and we talk about the checks and balances they have on each other the thing that you might not have thought about until this point is how many employees each of them have and so I encourage you to pause this video and just make a guess how many employees do you think each of these branches have or more importantly how many employees which one which of these do you think is the biggest well to the answer your question the great majority of federal employees are within the executive branch and we're talking about a very large number of people if you don't include soldiers we are still talking about more than 2.5 million people under the executive branch if you include the soldiers then we're starting to approach closer to four million people under the executive branch and so what you see on this org chart is that most of it sits under the executive and that's because the executive branch is charged with running the government and so you have the familiar roles the president the vice-president the executive office of the president then you have the various cabinet departments right over here and I could move to the left and the right so you can see them things like the Department of Agriculture Department of Interior Department of Commerce Department of Justice Department of Defense Education State on and on and on and on and then within each of these departments they can be quite quite large you could be talking about thousands or in some cases even tens of thousands of employees but it's not just about those departments if we go further down in this diagram right over here you see independent establishments and government corporations that are under the executive branch things like the United States Postal Service the Peace Corps you have the Federal Reserve System these are all under the executive branch and when you take all of these things in total together it's known as the federal bureaucracy now the word bureaucracy might conjure up some images for you you might imagine going to some type of a government office and trying to apply for something and then having to fill out a bunch of paperwork or sit in line and then wait for something and so sometimes it gets a bad name even the word bureaucratic tends to mean something that is a lot of process and not necessarily something that moves quickly or moves efficiently but it's worth noting that even though a lot of people we'd like to pick on the bureaucracy and it is worth debating on how efficient government is at certain things we do need some form of a bureaucracy without a government bureaucracy you would not have experts checking on whether your food is safe checking on which drugs actually work you would not have thoughtful people who are thinking about how do we run our military how do we determine how we engage with other countries so we do need a federal bureaucracy these are the folks that are doing things like writing and enforcing regulations they're issuing fines if you have bad actors it may be a corporation that is polluting where they're not supposed to now where do these people come from well a lot of times the heads of these various departments say the Secretary of Defense who's at the top of the Department of Defense or the Secretary of State they are political appointees they are pointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate we talk about that in other videos but the great majority of the bureaucracy does not come from what is known as political patronage political patronage is hey you really helped me with my campaign and I think you're a pretty decent person I'm gonna give you a plum job at the top of the bureaucracy and even the word plum job you should maybe take it with a grain of salt because some of these jobs do require a lot of responsibility but the great majority of the bureaucracy is not from political patronage but it's actually merit-based that these are folks they might take the civil service exam they might have a graduate degrees in something that's relevant let's say if they're working in the Food and Drug Administration they might know a little about chemistry or biology and will often and no organization is perfect oftentimes people get promoted for the wrong reason but for the most part they're going to be promoted based on merit so it's completely reasonable for us to debate how large this bureaucracy should be and for sure our federal bureaucracy is sometimes inefficient but we do need it and we're talking about millions of people many of whom are experts in their field who are really just trying to help us run our government
AP® is a registered trademark of the College Board, which has not reviewed this resource.