This seems really odd in an Indian perspective because In India , almost every single major government organization is headed by bureaucrats or people who specialize in their specific fields who are not elected politically , but are rather selected based on merit as they have to qualify for the position through exams conducted by Public service commission (Which are some of the toughest exams to qualify and is open to everyone) .

For example , scientific Organizations like ISRO or BARC are headed by scientists , unlike NASA or Department of Agriculture or EPA where the administrator of these organizations aren't experts or don't specialize in their respective fields.

Note - Though the administrate might be experts , but that's definitely not the case in most of the cases (especially in the trump administration).

1. We have every reason to fear Trump’s pick to head Nasa
2. EPA Chief Scott Pruitt Says the Bible Teaches Us to 'Harvest' 'Natural Resources' Like Gas, Oil and Coal
3. EPA Chief Pruitt Refuses to Link CO2 and Global Warming

Why has such a system been created in U.S. ? Is there any equivalent of India's Public Service commission in U.S. ?

  • 4
    You'll find tremendous disagreement with the premise of your question. I'm sure that Barack Obama and Donald Trump both believe(d) that their cabinet appointments, and other high level appointments, were people with excellent qualifications for the job. And don't forget, their appointments must be approved by the US Senate. Also note that a great scientist is not necessarily a good administrator. Mar 17, 2018 at 21:39
  • The only executive branch officials who are elected are the President and the Vice President. All other executive branch officials are political appointees (about 6000 people) or are appointed via the civil service system (about 2 million people a plurality of which work in the post office) or through the military (about 1.5 million people), but none of the rest are elected. The political appointees are listed in a book called the Plum Book.
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 18, 2018 at 19:51

2 Answers 2


I think that you are confusing roles. The United States Secretary of Agriculture is closer to being the equivalent of the Indian Minister of Agriculture and Farmers' Welfare Radha Mohan Singh. Because the US is not a parliamentary democracy, the cabinet secretaries are not members of parliament the way that their equivalents in India are. But neither are they civil service employees. They are still chosen politically, just as their counterparts in India are.

Now, that said, there may be some agencies in India that have a civil service head that in the US are headed by political appointees. If I had to guess, I suspect that this is the result of India's more recent transition out of the British empire. When part of the British empire, India's executive was mostly civil service positions. This was easier to handle because the British executive was in the United Kingdom while the government employees were in India. And this probably increased over time, to give India more independence from the UK.

It looks like the number of political appointees in India is increasing. For example, the Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy used to be part of the Ministry of Health and Welfare. Now it is headed by a political appointee: Shripad Yesso Naik.

Overall, Wikipedia lists fifty-three ministries in India. If we determined the top fifty-three departments in the US executive, both the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would be included.

This is not to say that there aren't more presidential appointees in the US than there are the equivalent in India. There probably are. But my point is that it's not necessarily as different as you make it out to be.

The Indian equivalents of the US Secretary of Agriculture and the Director of the EPA are both political appointees. Only the equivalent of NASA is headed by a civil servant in India. But note that the US equivalent of the head of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is a civil servant, Jaiwon Shin. Perhaps if the Indian Department of Space continues to grow, it too will become a ministry.

  1. Separation of powers (and specifically, Executive powers).

    The federal agencies are Executive Branch organs. As such, they report to President. Therefore, their job is to execute President's policies (the President is basically like a CEO of the country).

    As such, a head of the agency is someone the President picks, to execute those policies. Not a random bureaucrat who may be 100% in disagreement with the President.

  2. Congress's job is to vet qualifications (see: Federalism). As per Constitution, such positions are approved by Senate. As such, they are supposed to serve as a check to ensure that the candidate is still qualified and not a random partisan hack.

  3. Federal Executive branch wasn't designed to be an all-powerful thing.

    When the country was founded, the Presidency and Executive Branch were rather less powerful and had far less responsibilities and power than now.

    As such, it didn't really matter nearly as much who was the head of some department - with low power comes low responsibility, as Iron Man said.

  4. Answerability to the people.

    An unelected permanent bureaucrat can do whatever they want and there's no way the voters can get rid of them - despite said bureaucrat supposedly being employed by "the people". As such, they see themselves as masters, not servants.

    If an appointed head of department does very poorly, the President will be under political pressure to fire them (think Michael Brown, Hurricane Katrina and G.W. Bush). With a lifelong bureaucrat, that lever isn't available.

  • "An unelected permanent bureaucrat can do whatever they want and there's no way the voters can get rid of them": Not directly, no; but in parliamentary systems like in the UK, senior civil servants answer to ministers, who answer to Parliament. Civil servants are required to be politically neutral in their job, and ultimately to implement government policies. If they fail to do their job, there are repercussions just like in any other job. Mar 19, 2018 at 10:56
  • Also, permanent secretaries (the top civil servant in each department) are called before parliamentary committees from time to time. Parliament can't fire them, but it can question them and put pressure on ministers. Mar 19, 2018 at 10:58
  • @SteveMelnikoff - the question is tagged "[united-states]"
    – user4012
    Mar 19, 2018 at 11:53
  • 1
    I interpreted your answer as offering a counterpoint between presidential and parliamentary systems. As such, I assumed that the "random bureaucrat" was referring to a civil servant in a parliamentary government, especially since that alludes to the wording in the question. Mar 19, 2018 at 11:58
  • I wouldn't say congress's job is to vet candidates so much as approve by simple majority, the "check to ensure the candidate is still qualified and not a random partisan hack" is off-put by the largely party-line votes to approve some agency heads in the current administration, Pruitt and DeVos being notable examples
    – Gramatik
    Mar 19, 2018 at 21:12

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