How can we eliminate the dead hand of bureaucracy?


Dr. Kettl says it is imperative to create knowledge-driven organizations

  • Routine and predictability are essential for certain large-scale functions – such as air traffic control and social security payments
  • Other functions suffer from routine – such as social services and homeland security

What advice would you give the next President in restructuring federal agencies so that they can respond dynamically without falling into a bureaucratic routine?

4 Responses to “How can we eliminate the dead hand of bureaucracy?”

  1. John Kamensky, Senior Fellow, The Center for The Business of Government Says:

    Welcome to our second set of questions to spark a national dialogue about “what happens next.” We look forward to your participation in our ongoing conversation.

  2. Cathy Downes Says:

    A critical key to “not falling into bureaucratic behaviours” and ensuring a capability for dynamic response, (and I would contend, preventive and pre-emptive fore-actions), comes from developing leaders that provide “guidance” strategic direction, not “rules-based” direction. The ability to do this is handicapped by congressional legislative action that are based on layers and layers of rules and regulations. These regulations are then interpreted by executive branch departments with additional rules and regulations at each successive layer of the hierarchy, until the lowest level is so wrapped in regulations (all with fudge factors built in for higher levels of “accountability” to be covered) that bureaucratic behaviour is all that is left to them. If people have rules to follow, they will inevitably do nothing else but follow the rules. We have socialized public servants from the moment they start that defines job descriptions so tightly etc. The workplace in Federal agencies needs to be completely refocused – a significantly stronger end-to-end process organization rather than structural, hierarchical stovepipes. Its common sense until you try to implement this.

  3. Bob Maslyn Says:

    It is too simplified to talk about the “dead hand of bureaucracy” when one acts as if that bureaucracy came from the career workforce dull to being service-responsive. Most often it came from the clash of political dynamics and from too many political appointees serving short-terms, trying to make a mark. Regarding social service agencies, they are wholly different from air traffic control because they deal with the very complicated problems of real people in often no-win situations. Having said that, if we invest the funding in it, we can enable social service agencies to work smarter, as the Defense Department has had, to hire the smart people, buy the advanced technology, and do savvy practices. We could avoid the bad side of DoD bureaucracy if we employ enterprise architecture solutions and similar enterprise-wide approaches, plus the training that will be needed.

  4. Bob Stone Says:

    The dead hand of bureaucracy stops action when the would-be responsible actor reaches the limit of his or her authority and needs help from people who have the needed authority but aren’t responsible for the outcome.

    The next President can lighten the dead hand by delegating to agency heads (NOT to Cabinet members) all the authority of GSA and OPM, and urging Cabinet members to delegate to their agency heads all the authority they ask to execute their responsibilities.

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