The Government Bureaucracy

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The Government Bureaucracy

Have you ever wondered why the administration of a government is called a bureaucracy and the administration of a corporation is called an organization? The major reason they are different is because government is in the business to spend money and a corporation is to make it. Government mandates its customer buy its services and a corporation must cater to its customers before they buy its services or products. Government tries to maximize its costs because it is a way to reward those who support it. It is called patronage. Patronage jobs didn’t pay much on an hourly basis but it was almost lifetime employment unless your job is a pure political appointment. The corporation tries to minimize costs as a way to maximize profit. The jobs pay well but they are insecure if there is someone who is equally qualified and can outperform you for less. I will not dwell on how well the private sector performs on behalf of its customers because if they didn’t they would be replaced by another corporation who would. It is called competition. The government has no competition where it mandates its services or if it doesn’t its cost maximization operating philosophy becomes readily apparent. I cite the Post Office and Amtrak as a case in point.

When the government was small and there were no equal opportunity regulations entry level positions were, for the most part patronage jobs. For the most part they still are because the government has found a way to tilt the scale in their favor by hiring minorities, veterans and the least qualified of those who would be the most likely to complain and file suit in the first place. The private sector usually gets the most qualified because they offer higher starting wages and salaries because they can and must weed out their mistakes to stay in business.

Once on the payroll there is a question of advancement to the next level in the organization. In government, seniority takes precedence over competence and unlimited budgets, particularly at the federal level, mandate a heavily vertical as opposed to a flat hierarchy favored by corporations to reduce costs. Since 1923 this system has been mandated by law and when Roosevelt enabled unions to collude against their employers resulting in annual increases for the same work output the government quickly jumped on the bandwagon and wage and salary increases have been rising ever since at a nearly regular rate.

In government, the boss (President) is a political appointee who usually achieved his position through popularity (who you know) rather than competence in a particular field. The chances are he is a lawyer (80%-90%) and not usually the best because he could not afford the decrease in compensation. He will appoint at least 16 Cabinet Officers and an even greater number of undersecretaries and a staff of well over 100 to work in the White House and deliver instructions to the various departments. He will also be able to appoint as Ambassador to as many of the countries we recognize and to the United Nations as he chooses. Few, if any, will be recognized experts in the fields over which they will have jurisdiction and almost none will have any knowledge of the key permanent staff of the organization for which he is responsible. It makes little difference because even if he could tell they are incompetent or mediocre he will not be able to fire them. This often leads to shunting people aside, paying their salaries and replacing them with their own political hacks. Almost know of the Ambassadors will be fluent in the language of the country to which they are appointed.

Few, if any of the political appointees are willing to take risks and try to improve the performance of their bureaucracy because that would mean getting rid of incompetence or error prone performers. Aside from the fact that this options is really not available, it would hardly arise because none of his subordinates is going to do anything that may risk his job.

This bureaucratic mess we have created began when we allowed the bankers and the lawyer politicians to include in the blueprint (Constitution) the power to borrow and to stray from its singular charter of defense by including the words “for the general welfare”. It created the democracy the framer’s so feared, or did they?