May 17, 2011 at 9:58 am #130459
This is less a discussion than a question that I would like everyone to chew on for a while. Why is it the government bureaucracy can take the simplest task and pile rule on top of rule, requirement on top of requirement until it’s so complicated it is nearly impossible to complete?
May 17, 2011 at 12:21 pm #130491
Dale S. BrownParticipant
My observation is that organizations tend to complicate things- that there are a number of tendencies that make getting work done together very difficult.
I don’t agree with you that this is unique to the government bureacracy. I find the private sector is equally complicated- it just doesn’t have the transparency required by the government. For example, Have you tried to read one of the contracts put out by the private sector that you are agreeing to when you check “agree” to terms and conditions on your software?
Or had a long talk with someone who is middle managent in a large corporation who is trying to get something done?
So I am wondering whether anyone has any evidence that the tendency to complexify is worse in the goverment than in the private sector (when comparing organizations of the same size)
May 17, 2011 at 1:03 pm #130489
Because there is a human trait that people love to be in charge, but hate to be responsible. So the more layers, the more people involved, the more potential recipients for ‘passing the buck’ if something goes wrong.
There also seems to be this ‘I just know people will cheat, so let’s add this rule and this rule and this rule to stop it.’ And, I have to say, with greed being an overwhelming human motivator, they’re probably not far wrong. But I do think there is a flaw in, instead of dealing with the few troublemakers, rules are instead passed that hamper all, to ‘protect’ them from the few.
We had a situation in our own organization years ago. An employee abused the comp time program. He’d work extra hours, some suggest that he padded his hours, then wait until he had 40+ hours of comp time and take the whole week off…when the expectation was that you’d not allow your comptime to pile up and you’d take it in little chunks. What he did wasn’t against the rules. Others in other offices took their time that way. But, instead of dealing with the one person that was doing things in a way management didn’t like, they instead did away with comp time for our area. which meant that we either had to take our extra hours off within the week, or we got paid overtime.
Instead of dealing with the one person doing something they didn’t like, they ‘punished’ everyone. I think because it was just easier than confronting that one person.
Bureaucracy seems to function the same way. Rules upon rules upon rules, often passed by those that don’t even do the job, to ‘protect’ the majority from the acts that a minority just might do.
I think also, if there’s a program passed that some group doesn’t like, but they can’t stop the program, they instead add requirement after requirement, to basically make the program impossible to access. We have a new anti-abortion governor, who can’t go against Roe V Wade and ban all abortions…but there’s nothing stopping him and others from passing rule and requirement and rule to see if they can a) make it nearly impossible for a woman to ‘qualify to be eligible’ for an abortion, b) put in so many rules and regs that the clinics can’t afford to stay open. The old ‘I can’t stop the horse from drinking, but I don’t have to make it easy for him’ attitude.
May 17, 2011 at 1:25 pm #130487
Overcomplication promotes job security. 🙂
May 17, 2011 at 1:25 pm #130485
Dale: You are, of course, absolutely correct, it exists wherever there’s bureaucracy – government or otherwise, and I didn’t mean to imply that it only exists in government. I spent time at a major university (2005-2006) and found it just as bad there, and during my time in Washington, DC, I worked with a county government, a foundation, and an NGO, and found this in all of them. I guess I should have asked why do people when they gather in groups over complicate things. It would be nice, as you indicate, to see some empirical studies on whether or not different organizations exhibit different tendencies.
May 17, 2011 at 1:46 pm #130483
I wonder if it’s worse in government because there isn’t as direct a mechanism for holding employees accountable for the quality of their work. In the private sector, if you give someone an assignment and he does a sloppy job on it, it reflects poorly on him. In the public sector, a person’s job is less tied to his performance (of course I’m not saying they’re completely unrelated). So as a manager, to try to ensure the project gets done well, there might be more of a tendency to micromanage all aspects of it (rather than trust your employee to innovate his way to the best solution)… Interesting question.
May 17, 2011 at 2:40 pm #130481
The more people you add to the mix, the more complicated things tend to get, be it government or any other large company or organization. But, as Dale noted, there are a lot of special regulations that government is subject to that involve transparency. This is a good thing, but sometimes these regulations have not been updated to reflect new technology, and agencies are dealing with a lot more data now that when we only used paper files. I don’t know that the tendency to complexify is worse intentionally, but there are certain quirks unique to government that can add to the problem.
May 17, 2011 at 3:25 pm #130479
That too. Especially if there are very few people that possess the ability to give that final call, or make that vital decision, or fill out that specific piece of paper work.
There’s a fine line between job security by way of being the ‘go to’ person, and hoarding power/ability to make yourself indispensible.
May 17, 2011 at 3:28 pm #130477
I think so. I think it’s part of ‘passing the buck’, because if there’s a committee of 20 that makes a decision, well no singular person is responsible are they? ‘the committee’ did it, and ‘the committee’ won’t be fired over it. The worst they’ll have to do is be ordered to ‘fix it’.
Yet, if the program is a success, individual members of ‘the committee’ will each be stepping up, taking credit for the wonderful thing they did.
it’s a win/win, none of the blame, all of the glory.
May 17, 2011 at 3:32 pm #130475
I was in a committee meeting one time, and they had a problem to solve, but they were statutorially fobidden to speak ‘off the record’ and meet in private, due to transparency rules…so the only time they could get together in the coming weeks was once…so they might have been able to sit down and hammer stuff out, yet couldn’t because of transparency rules that mandated they MUST meet in a certain place and way.
You listen to that and you think ‘yeah, no wonder things never get done’.
Transparency is a good thing, but you wonder if there couldn’t be ways to keep the transparency and prevent ‘secret backroom meetings’, while still allowing for the freedom to get things done.
May 17, 2011 at 4:47 pm #130473
I have been active duty, a state, and now a Federal employee.
On active duty our mission was so important that as a 19 year old I could cause the Navy to scramble fighters. If I did it wrong people died. Be assured I held myself accountable as did all in the command cahin!
As a state employee I knew my customers. They were also the taxpayers and would file grievances, call the governor, etc. (Most of the time I would have done what they requested but I lack the resouses to do so. When I acquired them, I did as my employees had grieved. On the other hand, sometimes they lied too.) I squeezed a nickle until the buffalo hollared.
I wish I could do that as a Fed but it seems waste is built into the system.
May 17, 2011 at 6:25 pm #130471
I was joking.
May 17, 2011 at 8:15 pm #130469
It’s a joke, but it’s also true. The more red tape means more people needed to get something done which means more jobs.
Simplification and streamlineing often means that offices or people aren’t needed anymore.
I have a burnt out light bulb. I’m not allowed to change it myself. I have to put in a request to DFM who dispatches a repair person who changes teh bulb…days later and two more people needed instead of me climbing on a step stool and changing a light bulb.
May 18, 2011 at 5:06 pm #130467
Overcomplication also means you leave my stuff alone so I don’t have to change it. At least that’s my experience whenever I try to simplify something.
May 19, 2011 at 5:10 am #130465
And, while we’re at it, JodyMc hit on a very common practice – “Hunkering down over one’s rice bowl and protecting it at all costs.”
May 19, 2011 at 6:11 pm #130463
Victoria A. RunkleParticipant
Great thoughts and conversation! I have worked at four local governments and I find that when there is a policy board that has less confidence in staff, then regulations/bureaucracy grows. The challenge is once the policy board changes, we do not “untie” the regulations, but continue them.
June 7, 2011 at 4:14 pm #130461
I deal with this problem all the time with government clients. It has been so prevalent that we have adopted “fewest, most important” as our operating mantra! We’ve found that the main source of this problem is leaders and project managers defaulting to inclusivity from the get-go. By starting with every relevant voice in the room from all over our massive bureaucracy we’re bound to be overwhelmed by ideas, opinions and initiatives. It’s only when you clear away everything but the fewest most important people, pieces of information and projects that things get done, date-certain.
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