Time for major surgery on bureaucracies
by Melvyn L Fein
June 02, 2014 12:00 AM | 1682 views | 0 0 comments | 40 40 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Melvyn Fein
Melvyn Fein
Barack Obama is fond of telling us he intends to take a scalpel to fixing social problems. An indiscriminate meat cleaver that will cut away the healthy flesh along with the diseased tissue is not for him. Unlike his critics, he can tell the difference and therefore, like a good doctor, refuses to do harm.

Then again, Barack Obama has never met a bureaucracy he didn’t like. Whatever the difficulty, he plans either to throw money at an existing government agency or to create a new one expressly to supplement the old one.

No wonder our president has dithered in his approach to resolving the Veteran’s Administration dilemma. He does not understand that some bureaucracies can only be repaired by grabbing an axe and cutting them down to the roots.

Bureaucracies gone wrong are analogous to cancer. They grow uncontrollably and metastasize wildly. Rogue organizations always employ more people than they need — especially administrators. And they always spew out toxic regulations that destroy whatever they touch.

This is why sclerotic bureaucracies must be drastically slashed. Whether they are governmental, educational, medical or commercial, tiptoeing around their edges only allows their occupants to devise defensive strategies. They become experts in obscuring their malfeasance from outsiders who do not know better.

Among commercial organizations, market discipline takes care of the more egregious bad actors. Because they must compete with other enterprises, they need to be efficient or go out of business. The result is that during economic downturns, executives fearful of becoming unemployed downsize.

Government workers have no such fears. Often in cahoots with the politicians who hire them, they know their financial contributions and votes will keep their “friends” in line. All they need to do is rattle their checkbooks and plans to curb abuses are set aside.

This is why public bureaucracies must be reformed from the outside. Those who lead and sponsor them are usually motivated to maintain the status quo. Since both benefit from organizational gigantism, whatever they tell aggrieved outsiders, they persist in feeding the beast.

Nor can genuine correctives be modest. Small wounds are readily papered over. Organizational functionaries isolate them so they do not weaken the basic structure — or culture — of the enterprise.

Bureaucracies, it must be understood, are networks of interlocking offices and lengthy ladders of authority linked together by a communal culture. Upset one element and the others are upset. As a result, those not yet touched by a change rush into the breach because they know their own positions will be in jeopardy if they do not.

We have seen this at the VA. It is also true of the IRS, the Pentagon, the EPA, the Department of Justice, the State Department, the CIA, Social Security, Head Start, the Department of Education and, of course, the Department of Health and Human Services. Rest assured, it will also be true of Obamacare.

Many commentators have observed the VA’s problems are not new. They also realize that stopgap fixes have not worked. Therefore, they recommend the agency be replaced by another program — such as vouchers.

This is a good first step. But it is only a first step. The federal government has become absurdly bloated. Just as Ronald Reagan advised, but was unable to accomplish, it must be reduced in size. Not eliminated, but reorganized and streamlined.

Standing in the way, however, is the Bureaucratic (aka Democratic) Party. Despite protests to the contrary, the liberal ideal is socialism. The objective is for the government to own — or control — virtually all of the economy. This is regarded as essential for social justice.

Yet real justice is grounded in freedom, and freedom cannot flourish when trampled on by government bureaucracies. So let’s get out the meat cleavers because government officials will not take the appropriate action on their own unless forced to do so.

Melvyn L. Fein Ph.D. is professor of sociology at Kennesaw State University.
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