The Busting Bureaucracy Hackathon

The Real Bureaucracy

By Joe Starinchak on March 13, 2022
I see bureaucracy in my organization in... 

I see it everywhere - I work in the biggest one of all - the federal government

Bureaucracy makes my job harder or easier by... 

The combination of very large egos and a lack of accountability and leadership makes the government bureaucracy very difficult to change. As a result, this combination makes individual jobs very difficult when it comes to performance.

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chris-grams's picture

Joe-- you make a very interesting point here about lack of accountability in bureaucracy. One would think that there is MORE accountability in bureaucracy, simply because the lines of control and authority are usually clear. But my experience is similar to yours--that it actually leads to LESS accountability in the end. I wonder why that is so?

I have two thoughts 1) it is easier to "hide" in the complexity of a big bureaucratic structure. Because of multiple levels of decision-making/approval, etc. it is often takes more time to discern where things went awry than it is worth to figure out, so no one even bothers. 2) people feel powerless operating in a large bureaucracy so they are less likely to step up and take personal accountability/responsibility for projects. It is easier to fade into the system than it is to lead.

Your thoughts?

Chris – Joe
My experience is that the first point, the complexity of the bureaucratic structure, is mainly responsible for the lack of accountability. We have noticed that the more actors are involved, the more careless and less accountable they are becoming. A good explanation might be that the inevitable fragmentation of responsibilities reduces the individual risk associated with them. In addition, such structures induce many repetitive controls that over time become sluggish due their increased reliance to the work of somebody else… The recent unfortunate event with the missing Malaysian plane is such an example…

Chris - I relate to the second point you bring up - the powerlessness. Typically, political appointees have big egos and agendas, and even though these people are well paid and are supposed to be trained in management disciplines, from my experience, that's far from the case. In fact, in my agency, there is virtually no personnel or organizational management. As a result, if you aren't self-directed and have the ability to align your work with the agency's mission, then you can float, and from what I've seen, many people do. If there is no organizational culture of accountability, then an organization just flounders and goes up and down based on the political winds. Most people think that the government is dysfunctional because of the politicians, but the lack of management and accountability are, in my opinion, more egregious than the blustering politicians. However, you have to have the right skill sets to be able to ignore the political diatribe that dominates the Beltway.