Control and Coordination in Federal Administration

Since joining govloop just last month, I have joined several exchanges on topics related to my doctoral dissertation in Economics (title same as this post), which I successfully defended last Friday at George Mason University. Since I mentioned the connection, several members have expressed interest in reading it (at least in part), so I’ve attached it here. The abstract is below. Comments are welcome!

Steven O. Richardson PhD
George Mason University, 2009
Dissertation Director: Richard E. Wagner

Improved technology and increased transparency and accountability have made the shortcomings of federal government processes and results more apparent, but they have not helped diagnose or solve the problems commonly attributed to bureaucracy. I submit that this may be due to outdated “machine” models of government that neglect implementation challenges. What if the problem is that we have too many controls? Analyzing the federal government as a complex system leads to new questions and insights that have profound implications for theory and practice of public choice.

Using relationships as a unit of analysis, I construct a graphic model of a hypothetical agency, which I call a Kaleidic Hyperstructure, to demonstrate how rule changes affect behavior of the system. A case study of formation and reorganization of the Department of Homeland Security illustrates how this method of analysis can inform institutional design. I conclude that real control and coordination (i.e., effective policy implementation) will only occur if accountability for results is accompanied by flexibility to allocate resources – a relaxation of some constraints. Trading control for results works because agents value choice that allows them to use dispersed and emergent knowledge. Enabling (and requiring) agencies to pay more than lip service to policy can benefit the public not just by more effective administration but by providing feedback on how policies impact program performance and by inducing innovation and adaptation in government.

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Andre Goodfriend

Congratulations Steve! I’ve looked over the table of contents and the abstract, and am looking forward to reading the full text later today.

Andre Goodfriend

I’ve been interested in how these models are being applied for decades. Reading your paper will be a pleasure.

Kenneth Watkins

Steve, that’s some profound thinking you’re doing and I sincerely hope it has positive implications for governmental administration.

As you should well know, there are multiple players within the system of federal governmental management, not the least of which is “Congress,” but more importantly Labor (unions).

So, when we start to discuss relaxation of resource control/allocation we inevitably encounter the impact relaxed (material) resource allocation will have on manpower allocation; thus begins our issue with the unions.

It’s my sincere hope that research like yours can develop resolutions or simple paths to reasonable dialogue that can incite positive and constructive change within the federal service.

In all systems, ‘it’s inevitably a battle for resources: consumption, allocation, and acquisition.

Good luck, I’ll keep a look out for your research.

the Pragmatic Bohemian

Steve Richardson

Thanks, Rhino :). I will declare victory if I generate significant dialogue about the federal government’s behavior as a system. We have no chance of improving it if we treat its current rule structure as given.