Sorry for the hijack Jill, but are administrators political appointees or 'merit-based' PS promotions?
It depends. I will try to explain it without writing a book, heh, but it is complex.
Some administrators (like the Pres' cabinet) are appointed (hired), and there are equivalents at the state level as well, appointed by the Governor.
Often appointees have no real "operating" experience in these areas and end up being dressing/fluff/figure heads. Even with a vast amount of knowledge, they are not trained in that particular gov bureaucracy so have no applicable experience.
What can they do? What they do, do. heh. They rely on the people who were there before them and will be there long after, to direct, train, and lead to a large extent....and those people are administrators. (And in many cases they can NOT be fired by the new "head.")
The ultimate idea behind the Pres' cabinet is to "guide" administrators to interpret and administer in ways favorable to the current President. It doesn't work that way in reality, but its the idea.
For continuity of government, most administrators are hired on their own merit /experience/education and supposed to be separate from the politics. This also makes it very difficult to fire them.
But, can you imagine how bad it would be if every department was potentially replaced every 4 years with a new President?
We used to do it that way in this country, but it led to corruption, the Spoils System, (new Presidents appointed family and friends to positions they could not do...still happens but a few thousand appointees is nothing in the big scheme of gov...and for the most part they are "figure heads" anyway.)
So administrators are hired by human resources on merit (education/experience). Occasionally there are extra steps but ultimately it is a hire process.
Administrators are supposed to be experts in the field as well as government bureaucracy. They are SUPPOSED to be there to implement policy made by elected officials.
What generally occurs is ....people like Obama get elected and he is a novice. He knows nadda about running a country, and just a little more about being a Senator.
That's not a slam, just a fact. So now instead of really making policy himself (as the people wanted), he has to rely on the "expert" advice of hired and occasionally appointed people to make policy. Most of that advice comes from administrators who are supposed to be non-political. (The idea of going into this field is to serve Americans fairly, effectively, efficiently, and Constitutionally, not politically.)
Sure he signs things on tv and looks all official, like he's making changes...but the things he signs are usually very general, the details of which are worked out by....you guessed it.... administrators.
So for instance Clinton can sign a Don't Ask Don't Tell policy for the military, but how its interpreted, how its enforced, all of that is decided by DOD Administrators (yes a lot are soldiers as well, but equally administrators).
Another example, this infra-structure idea under Obama. Who do you think is coming up with the nuts and bolts of it? How its run. How much money it needs? Where it starts, when? From what I am hearing/ reading in the Administrators Journals and other professional literature, administrators are doing it all with very little guidelines from elected officials.
They'll get the plan all written up, give it to Obama/Obama's figure head. He'll make a change here and there if its politically expedient, but for the most part, these unelected administrators will decide everything about the program.
On the local level you see this in the Council/Manager form of Government. The Council is elected and then they hire a City Manager to run the city. The City Manager isn't accountable to the public. He's accountable to the council. So long as they're happy, he's fine. They make policy and he implements it but more often than not the CM takes the budget, his new policy ideas, etc to the Council and "sells" it. They vote on it, and most times defer to his expertise. So you tell me. Who is REALLY running the gov?
It's not the guys on tv.
This is why IMO political ideology is the root of the economic problems we face in this country. For whatever reason, the field of administration tends to draw "elitists" or people like Mumblefratz who believe essentially, what you have is at the disposal of the civilized society in which you live. And anyone making over a certain $ amount should give the "extra" to the gov to re-distribute. (If that summation is wrong Mumble, my apologies. However, it doesn't negate the point.)
No matter how conservative the President is, unless we can somehow get some checks and balances on administrators (we have ethics and transparency and that's it...and how many Americans have the time to go through thousands of pages of administrative decisions made every single day?) our debt will only get worse.
Right now the Pres only has control of 48% of the budget (which is why the military is often cut because their budget comes from his 48%). The other 52% is tagged by law and under the purview of administrators. (Source: Denhardt & Denhardt, Public Administration: An Action Orientation, 6th edition,).
So now that I've totally confused you....hahahaa. Hope that helps.