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The Problem of Reinventing Bureaucracy

By Roy D. Follendore III

Copyright (c) 2003 by RDFollendoreIII

October 10, 2003

Americans have been promised time and again that the problems of government bureaucracy will be fixed through reorganization.  We have been told by politicians that they will turn the system around and make tangible changes in the way that bureaucracies work. The problem is that we have not seen evidence that this is happening.   

The fundamental problem of reinventing bureaucracy is that within the modern paradigm of government, power is represented through the control of the budget and it is unfortunate that the objectives of that power are not necessarily the same as science. In fact, the objectives of that kind of power become their own ends rather than the means. This is exactly what happens when there is not a "translation" between the financial justifications for major programs and its internal social justifications. The sudden realization of this level of criticality came during the 1980's Bush administration, with the networked economics of outsourcing.   During that period, engineers with legitimate technical understanding within bureaucracies were being replaced by low level project managers and accountants. Networked computers have made the centralization of financial accounting far easier than the centralization of accountability. The requirements for government contracts are often soft wired to a particular company before it is put out for competitive bids because the outsource company provided the original justifications.  The problem of the justification for projects and programs became the work of the outsource company looking for the contract and along with that change of responsibility came the informal authority to dictate the objectives of the bureaucracy.  

It is a fact of humanity that strong willed individuals will rise through the political process within bureaucracies and NASA is not alone in the disastrous problems that this presents. What we are seeing is that all large Federal agencies and not just NASA are making critical errors in a similar fashion for the same reasons. NASA however simply has the critical programs that allow its errors to be unconditionally splashed across the sky's of the United States when such errors run rampant. But there are other organizations which are equally sensitive to this same problem, including the CIA and the FBI we saw that on 911. The reorganization of government into larger organizations can not solve the concerns and can in fact exasperate the problem.

The people of America are being constantly told that the failures of our government are driven by a lack of coordination, that the proper information did not exist and that hindsight is easier than foresight.  The truth is that the issues that are arising from the failure of large scale bureaucracy are not information driven and it was also not a matter of under spending.  It was a matter of attempting to reinvent the justification of bureaucracy though the magic wand of budgetary control.  With respect to the destruction of both NASA shuttles as well as the far earlier Apollo tragedy the there were senior executives working within NASA who understood the terrible implications of what was happening within their bureaucracy but who could do absolutely nothing about it.  With respect to the 911 terrorist attack there were senior executives working within the Federal Government who understood the implications of what was happening within their bureaucracy but could do nothing about it. With respect to the decision by the Bush administration there were senior executives who understood that there was no evidence of a link between Iraq and Al-Qaeda or the President's claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. 

Most people do not realize that on the scale history, the idea of modern bureaucracies is a fairly recent invention that was originally intended to allow for more impartial, less political and therefore better decision making. It was intended as a check and balance of political influence.  Our problem with reinventing bureaucracy is the issue of balancing the intended purposeful responsibilities of the organizations with the conflicting personal objectives and means of the managers who wield authority.  Unless we get back to the essential principles of why bureaucracies are necessary we will continue to see progressively more disastrous catastrophic failures evolve that increasingly threaten society. 




Copyright (c) 2001-2007 RDFollendoreIII All Rights Reserved