Don’t micro-manage the bureaucracy

Shortly after entering domestic government for the first time in my life, I spoke to a former classmate of mine about how to make bureaucracies more effective. This classmate has one of the deepest and most intricate understandings of the Federal bureaucracy of anyone I have ever known, and likely will ever know.

He recommended I read Bureaucracy: What Government Agencies Do And Why They Do It by James Wilson. He summed up Wilson’s book thusly: “Bureaucrats are happiest when they have a clear mission, and autonomy to complete that mission.”

After working my way through a few other texts, that book is next on my list. And let me say, I already agree with that statement.

I’ll be delving more into this topic as I get deeper into the book, but for now I’ll post some of its main highlights per

Bureaucracies are subject to three main constraints; these constraints are the independent variables explaining why bureaucracies are inefficient. In particular:

  1. Government agencies cannot lawfully retain and devote to the private benefit of their members the earnings of the organizations (so unlike McDonald’s, there is no profit-maximization incentive);
  2. Government agencies cannot allocate the factors of production in accordance with the preferences of the organization’s administrators (so unlike McDonald’s, we cannot necessarily move people and equipment to where it is most needed);
  3. Government agencies must serve goals not of the organization’s own choosing.

If you can remove some of these constraints from us bureaucrats, government agencies can produce some really great results: like beating all U.S. corporations in customer satisfaction for 10 years running.

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