Friday, December 3, 2010

Governance and Bureacracy

Okay distilling a few findings from 34 years as a bureacrat.
Validation by research outside of personal experience will be left to others. I majored in History [emphasis British Empire in W. Hemispere] with minor in International Relations after almost 70 CH of hard science as Pre-MED! Had many political science and government courses also. How did I do this? Almost 200 CH in four years. Could have left a year early based on minimum standards but chose to delay to avoid being drafted. Delayed again of course for Law School but after abolition of all grad school deferrments had to take a standardized test to stay in last year. Then of course complete abolition of grad deferments later.

So here are some lessons learned with examples that might support my conclusions. And always remember I am completely a creature of the federal executive branch or the US Army thus my limitations.

First! Bureaucrats do first what they like to do and hopefully that effort meets managements needs.

Second! Bureacrats do what they have been trained, rewarded or inculturated to do again hopefully meeting management's needs.

Third: Bureacrats are incapable of establishing priorities for managers. Unfortunately, managers often cannot establish priorities either. The In-Box test used to be an important factor in Executive selection. Prioritize the contents of a presented inbox.

Fourth: Bureacrats would and do preferably interact with other bureacrats or contractor support rather than the public or Congress or their OIG or GAO or OMB or OPM.

Fifth: Bureacrats rarely share the vision of the task or mission of their managers. Again unfortunatly, few federal appointees and managers share their vision with their subordinates.

Sixth: Bureacrats have difficulty absorbing new technology and frequently need a kind and motivated and knowledgable colleague or subordinate to show them how to utilize the new technology. The higher you are in the federal bureacracy the less likely you are to be an early adopter. This even goes for the IT world.

Seventh: Any kind of innovation by a bureacrat will be substantially rejected unless that bureacrat can convince his/her superiors it was their (the superiors) idea. A collolary is that suggestions are rarely welcome from any subordinate.

Eight: When a manager or supervisor states on the record or off that "they" [the manager or supervisor] don't like to be surprised they mean it. There is almost never a good surprise. So bureacrats use the drip technique or the salami technique--surprises are revealed drip by drip or a slice at a time.

Ninth: Supervisors and managers almost never [even on pain of death] will reveal their position descriptions or performance evaluation ratings to subordinates.

Tenth: It is often easier to leave one job for another than attempt to reform a job previously performed to the satisfaction of management. Oddly this creates great opportunity since because of items 1-9 above this means any new job, task or mission has never been done before, is not seen as a priority or even possible and thus gives almost complete freedom to the person willing to take on that new job, mission, assignment. Perhaps it is the Briar Rabbit principle personified--"Please don't throw me into that briar patch"!

Okay some examples. All FEMA based.

1. SAR {Search and Rescue]--almost violently opposed by the bureacrats and the vision of a political appointee and some dedicated civil servants. Most were opposed. Including in a famous incident the effort of some very senior bureacrats to try and terminate FEMA SAR efforts 6 weeks prior to Oklahoma Bombing in 1995. Yea of course this blog is self serving. So as mentioned before when I was asked by the appointee if he should get a legal opinion supporting the program I said no but did show him specific statutory authorization in FEMA's legal authorities and mentioned and documented that in 1970 the federal civil defense effort had 200 FTE's devoted nation-wide to SAR and its implementation. Good work appointee--appointee one, bureacrats none. I orchestrated a brilliant and energetic young lawyer to help implement SAR [she was an all-American basketball player] to help and a very dedicated small staff led for years by a friend Mark Russo long gone from FEMA to HHS and a Presidential intern made this effort a force in disaster reponse. Mark remains to me an unsung hero and hope he is well and thriving whereever he is. A good example of the good being driven out by the bad in FEMA, or is the also another bureacratic rule.

2. Community Mental Health services--in the Disaster Relief Act of 1974 authorization existed for FDAA, FEMA's diaster predecessor in HUD to fund and operate community mental health activities post disaster. Unfortunately it called on NIMH at HHS to do this for FDAA. They had no interest. Unknowing to me as son of social worker I found this authority very interesting. What I did not know is that a legislative draftsman at HHS knowing of NIMH reluctance, and with my pushing from the FEMA end with others--got the legislation changed to allow any qualified mental health professional or organization to be mission assigned or act as subgrantee to the state to do this. When I retired in FEMA this had become a $400M annual average program. Two former nuns, one now deceased were instrumental in this development.

3. Another example is LOGISTICS in FEMA. Oddly a largely punitive reassignment of a career SES led to FEMA having its first really dedicated and professional effort in logistics. Largely driven by post-Hurricane Andrew lesson's learned that effort meagre though it was has started to pay off. Strangely, the transfer of a very skilled and dedicated civil servant who may still be in FEMA and was another gem--who for her sake I will only call Beverly--carried on after she was practically drummed out of SAR for doing a great job by those senior who hated SAR [and note the USFA was never much help in supporting SAR until long after it was successful] and the Logistics unit in FEMA really started to click. Logistics had been identified in FEMA and even by a President (Reagan in NSDD-47 [1982] as very important but hey even when the President commands does not mean it gets done. I think our current President now understands that takes a "grip" on the bureacracy that he and his WH does not have. Listen to the LBJ tapes if you want to see a master at enforcement and making sure his orders were carried out the way he wanted. Really quite scary.

Well enough of this post for now but will return in time to this subject.