Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Meditations on Bureaucracy, Pt. I

The Faceless Bureaucrat had an interesting post on What Bureaucrats Do, which is a must read for those of you who, like me, are buried under an endless pile of paperwork. Seriously, Sisyphus didn't know how good he had it. In the post, TFB postulates that there are two basic types of Bureaucrats: "The Operatives" (your typical low level DMV, Prothonotary, auditor, etc.) and, what I'll call, "The Wonks" (your higher level, policy setting administrators).

The Operatives have no authority in and of themselves, but are rather instruments of the rules; as TFB points out, these are the Bureaucrats "wrap themselves in the "rules" as protection against the demands of their customers". These are the people that have to light a candle, don the special Bureaucrat robes, and consult the Great Big Book of Bureaucratic Rules before doing anything.

The Wonks, on the other hand, are the ones that are setting the rules for the Operatives and the Public, while at the same time being bound by the rules that they have created. This is where more of the authority lies, being created from knowledge and judgment of this class. These are the people that wrote the Great Big Book of Bureaucratic Rules, like Moses, the Evangelists, Mohammed, or a cabal of Illumanati-Freemasons*.

I'll go a little further and offer that within any Bureacratic structure, an individual is somewhere within the continuum between an Operative and a Wonk. Unless an organization is horizontally structured (which most Bureaucracy are not), decisions will have to go up the chain of command to a point where a "decision maker" is found. This decision maker, depending on the nature of the matter to be decided, has a degree of latitude to, in effect, make policy. At the top of this chain, you have an ultimate Wonk who knows the rules and can change them, but never directly implements them.

I'll go even one step further to argue that as you approach the Bureaucratic apex, you see a subtle shift from "Wonk" to "Politician", that is, from someone who is bound to the Rules to someone who is bound to the electorate. In most US Government Situation, this delienation is obvious: career Bureaucrats make up the bulk of the Civil Service, but the top of the Bureaucracies are staffed by appointees. It's not always that drastic, but you get the idea.

It is within this continuum of Operative-Wonk-Politician that the basis of bureaucracy exists: a dynamic between enforcing the rules, creating the rules, and, frankly, getting re-elected.

I'll continue with some of the more standard ways to try and get around the Bureaucracy in Part II of this post, but for now I have to go read the Pittsburgh City Paper .



No comments: