Iron Triangle in US Government: Understanding the Relationship between Interest Groups, Congress and Bureaucratic Agencies

What is an iron triangle?

It is a relationship between bureaucrats, legislators andlobbyists working together (usually to enact legislationbeneficial to their group).

An iron triangle is a term used to describe a three-way relationship between interest groups, Congress, and bureaucratic agencies or federal departments. This term describes the benefits the three groups gain from one another’s cooperation.

Interest groups are typically organizations that represent a particular industry, occupation, or cause and seek to influence public policy decisions made by Congress. Bureaucratic agencies or federal departments implement those policies, making them responsible for their day-to-day administration. And Congress is responsible for creating policies and providing funding for the implementation of those policies.

The three groups work together – a sort of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” – to achieve their goals. Interest groups provide Congress with electoral support, such as campaign contributions and lobbying efforts. In turn, Congress provides funding and policy support to the bureaucratic agencies and federal departments which interest groups rely upon for support in specific policy goals. Bureaucratic agencies and federal departments, in turn, provide expertise to interest groups and Congress and advocate for the policies they want.

Through this mutually beneficial relationship, an iron triangle is created where the three entities are dependent on each other to achieve their objectives. This form of relationship has been criticized for creating a form of power and influence that can be immune to democratic oversight and can undermine the public interest.

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