Quick Thoughts on “The Continuous Reinventing of the Machinery of Government”

I’m into the last semester of an MBA. For my last two electives, I chose courses that could serve me if I chose to be public servant or if I chose to get into the foreign service (I realize those aren’t mutually exclusive areas). My two electives are International Relations and Administration in Public and Nonprofit Organizations. The IR class is certainly challenging as I never had a political science class during my time as an undergraduate. The Public Admin. class has been really fun so far — I’m learning a lot about how the government functions (and doesn’t). I just finished reading one of the chapters for class tomorrow and I wanted to share a few excerpts and some thoughts. All excerpts come from Shafritz’s/Russel’s/Borick’s Introducing Public Administration, 8th edition, Chapter 3, “The Continuous Reinventing of the Machinery of Government.”

“More than 7 million Americans already live in such closed-off communities, and that number is expected to double over the next decade.” (p. 75)

“These new-fashioned feudalists, who are decidedly libertarian concerning the outside world, are surprisingly socialistic concerning the private, inside world of their gated min-cities.” (p.75)

This reminds of something I saw earlier this year. Glenn Beck wants to create his own city. I remember Jon Stewart doing a bit on Beck contrasting his anti-socialistic views for the outside world, but his downright socialistic tendencies when it came to being inside the walls of his city. This has a, “history repeats itself,” kind of feeling to it, doesn’t it? Not the Stewart bit on Beck, but that there’s a push (is there really?) to return to walled-off cities.

“Government entities, once established, tend to last a long time and not change easily.” (p. 79)

While understandable, it seems that there should be more innovation in the government, shouldn’t there? How can we get more innovation in the government, while carefully preserving those agencies that might quickly be lopped off before they’ve had the time to adequately effect the changes mandated of them?

“There is no federal Department of the Environment…” (p. 84)

Doesn’t this seem a bit unfortunate? Pres. Clinton tried to create this department under his administration, but — naturally — was met with opposition. I understand the fear of Big Government, but some things should transcend partisanship. The really twisted part — folks are calling for the Secretary of State to make climate change (!) his top priority! If there were a Department of the Environment, the Secretary of State could focus on other matters concerning the State. This issue seems misplaced. (Note: I should say that I still think it’s important for the Secretary of State to be concerned with climate change, but with a Department of the Environment, the issue would be more appropriately addressed.)

~

There are almost 90,000 (!) governments in the United States when you include county, municipal, towns, school districts, and special districts. (p. 86)

~

“Because few citizens ride horses to government offices today, it would seem to make a lot of sense to combine many counties and thus realize substantial savings from having fewer county clerks, county sheriffs, county courts, and so on. But which clerk, sheriff, or judge is going to quietly resign?” (p. 88)

This seems like a really important point. It seems to parallel a problem that is often faced in business — short-term profits vs. long-term gains. In this case, it would be taking short-term losses for long-term gains. If the government bought out those employees in areas where it were merging governments, there would likely be a substantial price tag. Although, in doing so, many (theoretically) efficiencies would be realized. Similarly, there would be a great deal of potential entrepreneurs (in those people who were just bought out). Of course, this is hastily laid out here, but it’d be an interesting proposal to have fleshed out.

~

I find it odd that special districts have quadrupled since 1942 (now over 37,000), but school districts have shrunk by 90% (from 108,000 in 1942 to approximately 13,000 today). (p. 90-91)

~

“Congress has never drawn — as the Brownlow Committee would have liked — a dichotomy between politics and administration.” (p. 105)

“Members thrive on bureaucratic red tape and the opportunities it creates for constituent service. This is why the ombudsman/ombudswoman movement has never gone very far in the US. This function is happily, even joyously, performed by the elected representatives. It is quite literally what their staffs spend most of their time on — because it is the key to reelection.” (p. 105)

Something’s wrong with this picture — assuming that the authors are correct in their assessment (in that this is what most members spend their time on). It reminds me of an idea I’ve heard before where those elected to Congress were only allowed 1 term (2 years) or something like it.

“To reinvent government, you must also reinvent Congress.” (p. 105)

Great idea! How do we do it?

“Privatization is almost always predicated on assumptions about public sector versus private sector efficiency and productivity rates. The burden of proof is often on public sector managers to explain why they are not inferior to private enterprise managers and why they should retain their functions in the face of private sector alternatives. Perhaps no responsibility is greater for public managers today than developing the evaluation and management assessment tools needed to assure critics that public sector programs and enterprises are being managed efficiently and effectively.” (p. 106)

This reminds me of the Project Management class I had this past Fall. The professor would often take us to the dashboards of the federal government showing us those projects that were on-time, behind schedule, under budget, over budget, etc. I wonder if this elaborate check/balance came as a result of those folks who were trying to prove that the public sector was efficient.

Maybe the burden of proof shouldn’t lie with the public sector. Maybe it should be more a of a philosophical debate. Do we think that these services should be provided by the private sector or by the public sector? And then take action from there.

Advertisements

Any Thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s