by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
People often accuse the Federal government of being an entrenched bureaucracy, which it is. They blame the bureaucracy for all of the government’s problems, but the truth is a bit more complex. After all, it isn’t the bureaucracy passing sweetheart legislation, it is our elected un-representatives. The bureaucracy may write the rules but it does not runs the show.
Believe me, having worked in the bureaucracy my entire career, I can tell you it isn’t in charge. It is subject to enormous political pressures from elected executives, representatives and even the courts. No rules are passed without political sign off. Elected official send their political appointees deeply into the bureaucratic hierarchy to infiltrate and transform their missions. Politicians often say one thing and do another, using the bureaucracy as their cover. In truth, bureaucracies are only as good as the politicians we elect to run them.
Obamacare is a great illustration of this. In states where the chief executive wants it to work the bureaucracy has created workable systems and overcome large obstacles to make it work. In states where the chief executive would like to see it fail the bureaucracy has made a hash of things. I call it planned incompetence. The bureaucrats were given a mixed mandate to create a faulty system to prove the politicians position that Obamacare doesn’t work and that government doesn’t work. Bureaucracies are tools that can be used for good or evil by people in power. Bureaucracies are the interface between ordinary citizens and political rulers.
Did you know that the modern bureaucratic government structure was established by an enlightened English King (one of the Henry’s) to assure that his erratic, sometimes irrational sons could not, on a whim, destroy the good government administration he created to serve his people? We don’t think much about it today, but bureaucracy still serves a vital, useful purpose in assuring the smooth and planful administration of government.
The very characteristic most often criticized, its slowness to respond, is also its primary benefit. It methodically operationalizes the dictates of our political rulers to maintain continuity and order in government administration, not that it always succeeds. But if we didn’t have it we would be subject to every impulse of the chief executives and this would lead to real chaos in government services. So while I am quick and well experienced to criticize the bureaucracy, I am less inclined to condemn it.