Decentralized, Delegated Disappointments

The spouse of a friend of mine was denied a visa yesterday. Knowing something of the visa system myself I had explained how the system worked and given reassurances about the professionalism of the consular officer. And, ultimately, while I have no doubt about the officer’s professionalism, it’s clear that the officer’s approach was different than mine might have been. But, having been on the deciding end myself many times, I know the feeling of having a decision questioned by someone who wasn’t there, or of being told to make a decision in a certain way by someone who would not have to take responsibility for the decision being made. As professionals, in whatever capacity, we have been given the authority to make certain decisions related to our area of professional expertise. And, while we should be able to explain the rationale for these decisions, it must be respected that the responsibility for the decision rests with the decision-maker.

In the consular realm, with the incorporation of centralized, web-accessible databases, decisions have become extremely transparent and auditable. Notes concerning decisions must be written in clear English and are reviewed by supervisors and may be access by all with relevant roles anywhere in the world. And, it is this transparency and auditability that, while it could be used to micromanage, also makes it easier to decentralize and delegate. Transparency in the helps us understand the role each of us plays within that system and the authorities that we’ve been given. Consular officers can now see the record of actions taken by CBP inspectors at US ports of entry, and likewise, CBP inspectors can access the notes made by consular officers when issuing a visa. For the system to work, we need to recognize each others roles and authorities and act within the constraints of our own roles and authorities.

It also brings home that we each have our own perspective and are making subjective decisions about the information presented to us. There’s nothing wrong with recognizing that a decision is subjective, made by a human professional. If our Supreme Court justices can look at exactly the same information and presentations and, drawing upon their professional expertise, still come up with differing learned opinions, why should it not be the case that other professionals reviewing cases will differ in their judgments? Sometimes the decisions are reviled and sometimes they are praised, but ultimately responsibility for the decision rests not on laws and regulations, or on the computer, but on a person who is expected to analyze and decide based upon his or her professional expertise and authority.

Reading the morning papers about the public backlash over decisions made concerning AIG bonuses, I find myself thinking over the same interplay of authority to decide, differing opinions and public concern.

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