Monday, July 31, 2006

Mayor's Office Purge - Analysis

Every now and then we here at The Angry Drunk Bureaucrat like to take a break from our litany of poop jokes to do thorough and thoughtful analysis of local and national politics and policies. The recent shake up at the City of Pittsburgh Mayor's Office give us just such an opportunity and the weekend gave us an opportunity to think it over in a bacchanalian orgy of Political Systems Analysis.

Some of the key passages from the Post-Gazette analysis, which struck us like an elderly driver strikes a farmer's market, were as follows:

Mr. O'Connor's predecessor, Tom Murphy, believed that teams need creative tension. He made appointments with conflict in mind.

Whether or not Mr. O'Connor meant to orchestrate friction, that's what he got.

Ms. Leber, in charge of all department heads, didn't think they should have to send copies of communications with City Council to Mr. Regan. Mr. Regan, in charge of relations with council and other governments, thought nothing of bringing council members' beefs directly to department heads in his blunt style, without alerting Ms. Leber.

"I knew there was some tension in the office," said acting City Controller Tony Pokora, an independent official, after the firings. "I didn't realize it was that severe."


In the days that followed, Mr. Regan was among just three aides with daily or near-daily access to the mayor. His late wife was Mrs. O'Connor's cousin.

Another frequent visitor was senior secretary Marlene Cassidy, who has been with the mayor for so long she is practically family. She lives with Mr. Regan.

Less frequently admitted was mayoral spokesman Dick Skrinjar, a public relations pro charged with putting the best face on a grave situation.

This passage made us immediately rush upstairs and yank an old, dusty college text book off our shelf: Organizing The Presidency, by Stephen Hess. In this book, Hess argues for two competing historical managerial styles for the Federal Executive, one a collegial model and one a corporatist. From the book:
The Roosevelt and Eisenhower White Houses have come together to represent the extremes of presidential organization. Roosevelt's organization has been described as a circle with the president in the middle surrounded by a collection of generalists of no fixed assignment competing for his favor. At its best, this organization allows the president to rub two aids together and light a fire of creativity; at worst, such a system results in petty quarreling, forcing the president to get rid of one or both combatants. Eisenhower's model has been viewed as pyramidal. In this steeply hierarchical system, each aide, usually a specialist, is given a carefully prescribed duty. At worst, decisions fall between the boxes on the organization chart or have been rendered insipid by the time they reach the president; at best, information arrives on time and has the support of all parties. The more fluid Rooseveltian organization is likely to produce more policy innovation; the more structured organization of Eisenhower is likely to give more guidance to the permanent government.
The Wheel-and-Spoke model's inherent weakness is its overreliance on multiple actors, leading to confusion as to direction and stymying policy. The Pyramidal model can lose vital information if it does not percolate up to higher levels or if a decision maker acts as a choke point in the flow.

Historically, Democrats have favored the Wheel-and-Spoke model while Republicans have favored the Pyramidal model. The best example of the Wheel-and-Spoke version working is Kennedy's handling of the Cuban missile Crisis, while the worst is Kennedy's handling of the Bay of Pigs. The Eisenhower administration shows the best of the Pyramidal model, while the current Bush administration could probably be used as an example of the worst.

If you are quick witted, you'll probably see where we're going with this: the O'Connor administration has made a significant shift away from a collegial model to a more authoritarian corporate model.

What does this mean for the future of the O'Connor Administration? Clearly with the Mayor's illness it becomes necessary to "reduce the fuss," i.e., simplify the administration's decision making process during this crisis. Arguably, at this point, it becomes necessary to show a clear chain of command, should there be any attempt at mutiny, which, if you believe the newspapers, there was.

It also means, however, that the resiliency and innovation of the administration (if it existed in the first place) will be severely diminished. Multiple decision makers may lead to conflict, but they also provide for multiple points of view; multiple points of view lead to a more thorough understanding of policy implications.

Still, the most disturbing development of this change is this: the Pyramidal model allows actors to make policy with little oversight within their particular sphere, as they can block the flow of bad information to the Executive. The result is sufficient latitude to reward particular interests or pursue particular policies that, one may argue, could be criminal. Multiple levels of oversight and conflict help to minimize this problem.

So, effectively the concentration of power in the hands of a small clique of "Pols" in the Mayor's Office, following the purge of the "Wonks" will probably lead to a more explicit series of policies that reward O'Connor favorites/patrons/friends and a lessening of policies that seek to innovate the City of Pittsburgh. Alternatively, the Mayor's Office will be able to ruthlessly pursue its agenda without fear of being stymied from within.

But that's just my take on it.

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