Bureau and Boards/Commissions Systems in Departments

We are at the next level of understanding departments within the organizations. In the earlier article we understood about the line staff and auxiliary agencies and the organization of business in departments based on the four principles of finance, process, clientele and geography. This article shall look at the distribution of authority within the department.

Based on the distribution of authority, there are two main systems namely Bureau System and the Board or Commission system within departments. When all the administrative authority is invested in a single individual within the department then the system is Bureau.

When a plural body is vested with all the administrative power then the system is known as Board or Commission. Now, the next obvious question that comes into the mind is how to decide which system to use. According to author Raj Kumar Pruthi, in his book Administrative Organizations, there are conditions that determine the choice of systems:

  • If the department is to carry out work of administrative character, the Bureau system is more appropriate. He further explains that for the administrative functions the speedy decision making, unity of command and promptness is required for efficient performance and it can be achieved only when the responsibilities and power are invested in a single individual.

  • When the nature of work is such that a lot of discretion and care is to be maintained with respect to information which affects a large number of people, like the drafting of policies, rules and regulations, the Board or Commission kind of system works best. Also, when an organization has to perform both kinds of functions, then in such cases as well, the Board systems works better. To sum up, for services and functions that require collective intelligence, holistic view points, mature decision making, a Board system works well as there are more members to arrive at balanced decisions.

The Board or Commission system is followed under following conditions:

  • Organizations that perform quasi-judicial and quasi- legislative functions like the Railway Board of the Government of India

  • Organizations which exercise large discretionary powers to perform their duties like the Public Service Commission

  • Organizations which need representation from different groups to be able to function objectively like the Arbitration Board of Industrial Dispute

  • In countries like USA, where representation of the opposition party is also included. The e.g. is the Tariff Commission of the USA

There has been a lot of debate amongst the scholars regarding whether the public organizations and their structures inherently differ from those of private organizations. Some support the argument saying that it does and some say that through the difference is there but it is only in the presence of red tapes in the public organizations. Those who oppose the statement argue that, the public organizations are very different from the private organization in terms of lack of flexibility, excessive government control, lack of clear performance indicators like profit and loss and a lot of emphasis on rules and hierarchy. Some researchers like Pugh, Hickson and Hinnings pointed out that the size of the organization and technological developments are other important determinants of the structures and hierarchy of any organization.


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