Uptempo

By Megan McArdle

Megan at From the Archives makes an interesting point about the warring incentives of legislators and bureaucrats:

This doesn’t surprise me either, that the work was done in a state agency, then lingered for years. The work of the state is huge and sprawling and only barely managed. People at the top, the political appointees and the legislators, give instructions and change them with the new exciting trend. Mid-level civil servants finish their reports (perhaps even a nice thorough job) and the person who commissioned the work is long gone for another job. Or the legislator is swamped with exciting new problems. Flood! Climate change! Relentless plodding is the mark of low and mid level bureaucracies, but long-term follow through fails at the top. That is because of news driven governance in some part, and you fickle voters in other part. Really though, it always goes back to a constituency. If you cared about prison health care, those reports and audits would get implemented.



The politicians, like the public they serve, have the attention span of a gnat. Bureaucracies, on the other hand, are built to work in geologic time. Neither has any control over the other to force them onto their time frame. From my limited experience as a government contractor, this seems to result in less getting done than would if one party managed to force the other into its time frame; we spent a fair amount of time trying to sort through the competing demands of the "This is how it's done" bureaucracy and the "Everything's changing! News at 11!" fly-by reformers. Result: paralysis.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2007/08/uptempo/1818/