by Nayara Albrecht

Translated and Reviewed by Matheus Lucas Hebling

Since the seminal work of Max Weber[1], the contemporary idea of bureaucracy is related to a certain level of professionalization. According to Weber, bureaucracy is a form of organization based upon other principles rather than personal ties. It requires specialization and qualification. Not surprisingly, most studies on the public bureaucracy focus on the negative consequences of politicization, which refers to the political facet of bureaucrats. The central questions refer to the political connections of bureaucrats and their impacts on public policies.

In this sense, several authors have addressed the choices presidents make when choosing individuals for public office[2]. Most of them emphasize these political appointments aim at controlling the bureaucracy or bargaining with members of the presidential coalition. A growing body of research on Brazil points out allocating public offices is a resource to obtain support from political parties. By appointing partisans to bureaucrat positions, the President induces the cooperation of the coalition[3].

According to many authors, this is particularly important in Brazil as the political system is defined as a coalitional presidentialism. The unprecedented mix of institutions – federalism, multiparty system, presidentialism – makes diverse and large coalitions necessary for the President to govern. The relationship between coalitional presidentialism and the allocation of public offices is almost a consensus in the literature[4], and the role of political appointments in maintaining the coalition is almost uncontested. However, the data available might differ from these theoretical assumptions. First, only a small number of public employees in discretionary positions are affiliated with political parties[5]. Secondly, the use of appointments for controlling bureaucrats or maintaining the coalition presupposes an overestimated ability of presidents and political parties to monitor the bureaucracy[6]. Finally, there is no evidence of systematic use of the bureaucracy for these purposes as the ideological control over bureaucrats seems rather indirect[7].

Moreover, these perspectives on politicization contribute to diffusing a pejorative and limited meaning of politics. By linking political reasons to pork-barrel politics and self-oriented behavior, the critiques of politicization associate political activities to a pervasive attitude towards civil service. It also reduces political activities to partisan affiliation. Bureaucrats may have other political connections and join other organizations, such as interest groups and associations. It must not necessarily be regarded as a negative characteristic since political engagement is necessary to improve democracy. Furthermore, these connections with civil society are foremost to promote responsiveness. Despite the risks of giving unjustified benefits to certain stakeholders, politics seems inescapable as any human being has world views – even those who say they are not interested in politics.

The government of Brazil has carried out several administrative reforms over the past years. In Brazil, Public Administration is often associated with inefficiency and waste of economic resources[8]. Part of our civil society supports reforms meant for civil servants. However, none of these reforms has addressed the most important challenges in improving the quality of our civil service: inequality, turnover, and unfair recruitment processes. These three elements are more significant than politicization per se.

As regards inequality, it is widely known that Brazil is an unequal country. Nonetheless, authorities and politicians seem to forget that this inequality also reaches civil servants and consequently affects the quality of responsiveness of public policies. The stereotype of the Brazilian public servant is a rich individual who gains several unfair privileges at the expense of society. Nevertheless, this is not the reality of most public servants, especially those who work in the Executive Branch. According to data from the Ministry of Economy[9], salaries vary from BRL 1.326,72 to 30.936, 91. There are also differences in managerial positions as white men have more chances to hold the highest positions[10]. This affects policy outcomes as these groups have more opportunities to influence public policies. As studies of economic and political elites highlight the role of socialization, the socioeconomic background of people holding powerful positions is a key variable. Despite its relevance, the various types of endogenous inequality are often ignored by both the research literature and the administrative reforms.

High levels of turnover may also have a great impact on formulating and implementing public policies. Changes in the staff might hamper the continuity of policies and paralyze routine processes. For instance, from 2011 to 2021, the Ministry of Culture of Brazil had 11 ministers and secretaries – around 1 per year[11]. Its organizational structure also changed several times with the creation, extinction, and fusion of secretariats and departments. This has hindered the formulation of policies. As a former civil servant, I experienced this in practice. In Brazil, discretionary positions are the ones with the higher levels of turnover since appointees may be freely chosen and dismissed by political authorities[12].

In addition, there is no specific recruitment process for filling high-level discretionary bureaucratic positions. Although decrees establish some criteria, a quick look at the profile of appointees proves they do not always comply with the requirements[13]. Formal obligations indeed allow opposition parties and other authorities to contest nominations, but they are not enough to promote professionalization, fairness, and equality of chances. Therefore, the most recent administrative reforms also lack an honest debate on which kinds of qualifications and abilities a policymaker needs to comply with tasks whereas being transparent and responsive to the whole society[14]. As I argued before, having political connections should not be seen as a problem alone.

Politics is an inevitable dimension of Public Administration since the public interest must be always open for discussion in a democratic society. Therefore, the problem is not politics per se, but which type of politics. A democratic type of politics refers to a system open to all interests, especially those from the less resourceful groups.

Nayara Albrecht is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of São Carlos (UFSCar), where she develops a research project with funding from the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP). She is the chair of the Research Committee on Politics and Business of the International Political Science Association (IPSA). She earned her master’s and Ph.D. degrees in Political Science from the University of Brasília, where she joined the research group on democracy and inequalities and the internet and public policies lab. Her doctoral thesis was one of the best ranked in a competition held by the National Association of Graduate Studies and Research in Social Sciences in 2020. She was an assistant lecturer at the University of Rio de Janeiro (2017-2018) and a voluntary lecturer at the University of Brasília (2019). From 2014 to 2020, she held many high-level bureaucratic positions as a civil servant at the Ministry of Culture of Brazil. She is interested in a diverse range of topics such as democratic theory, public policies, and bureaucracy.
This research was funded by Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo (FAPESP), grant #2019/19570-8


[1] WEBER, Max. Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft: Grundriß der verstehenden Soziologie, 1947 (German edition).

[2] LEWIS, David. “Presidential appointments and personnel”. Annual Review of Political Science, vol. 14, pp. 47-66; LOPEZ, Félix G. (org). Cargos de confiança no presidencialismo de coalizão brasileiro. Brasília: IPEA, 2015.

[3] GUIMARÃES, André Rehbein Sathler; PERLIN, Giovana Dal Bianco; MAIA, Lincon Macário. In: SANTOS, Manoel Leonardo; PERLIN, Giovana (orgs). “Do presidencialismo de coalizão ao parlamentarismo de ocasião: análise das relações entre Executivo e Legislativo no governo Dilma Rousseff” Presidencialismo de Coalizão em Movimento, Brasília: Câmara dos Deputados, Edições Câmara, 2019.

[4] Ibidem

[5] LOPEZ, Felix; SILVA, Thiago Moreira da. “Party filiation and appointment for positions in the Brazilian federal bureaucracy (1999-2018)”. Rev. Adm. Pública, vol. 53, n. 4, pp.711-731, 2019.

[6] SORAUF, Frank J. Party and patronage. Midwest Journal of Political Science, [Online], v. III, n. 2, p. 115-126, 1959.

[7] Through coordination public bodies, for instance. In Brazil, Casa Civil (Presidential Office) plays a central role in approving nominations. See: “Os Níveis de Controle da Presidência sobre a Coordenação Política Governamental e a Coalizão Partidária (1995-2010)”. In: LOPEZ, Félix G. (org). Cargos de confiança no presidencialismo de coalizão brasileiro. Brasília: IPEA, 2015.

[8] EVANS, Peter. Autonomia e parceria: Estados e transformação industrial. Rio de Janeiro: Editora UFRJ, 2004.

[9] Available at (Last accessed on October 26th).

[10] Data is available at (Last accessed on October 27th).

[11] I consider ministers and secretaries as the Ministry was transformed into a Secretariat in 2019 (Decree no. 9.674, of 2nd January of 2019). I excluded the adjunct ministers and secretaries.

[12] The so-called “cargos de Direção e Assessoramento Superior” (DAS) refer to important positions in policymaking. They are policymakers as they work directly in different phases of the policy cycle, especially formulation.

[13] An in-depth analysis of the profile of bureaucrats is part of the research project I develop at UFSCar.

[14] Pacheco (2008) had started this discussion a long time ago. See: PACHECO, Regina. “Brasil: o debate sobre dirigentes públicos. Atores, argumentos e ambigüidades” CONGRESO INTERNACIONAL DEL CLAD SOBRE LA REFORMA DEL ESTADO Y DE LA ADMINISTRACIÓN PÚBLICA, 13. Buenos Aires, Argentina, 4-7, 2008.

Nayara Albrecht (2021) "Politicization of Bureaucracy". Brazilian Research and Studies Blog. ISSN 2701-4924. Vol. 2 Num. 2. available at:, accessed on: November 30, 2022.