12 July 2012

Thwarting good bureaucrats

I often critique bureaucrats (non-elected government employees) for their propensity to stick with their vision (personal bias) instead of serving the public interest, but there are ALSO many bureaucrats who have skills and passion for their jobs.

Some of them are thwarted by a system that makes it hard to do their job well (I'm thinking teachers who have to "teach to the test" or who cannot hug or discipline kids for fear of lawsuits), but there are also more direct ways of stopping them.

Underfunded budgets, for example.

I know of many examples in the water sector where some mandate or law that sounds good on paper does not function in practice because those charged with implementation lack the time or money necessary to do their work. They then engage in "office triage" to try to accomplish as much as possible. Outsiders may then criticize them, but outsiders often have their own priorities and a limited view of the big picture.

I have a few suggestions on how to bridge the "resources-performance gap"
  • Replace central budgeting with user fees. Ask users (stakeholders) for priorities
  • Cut unnecessary paperwork (I love hate reading "reduction of paperwork act" notices on forms!)
  • Reduce monitoring of private activities that can be policed in a market
  • Levy SIGNIFICANT fines for breaking real rules (hear that Wall Street?)
  • Allow different bureaucracies to compete -- innovators win!
But forget all of these ideas (but leave yours in the comments!) -- make sure that politicians who set budgets "pay the price" for underfunded mandates. It's sometimes an accident, but quite commonly intentional, that politicians will say "me the hero" when making a policy but turn into a scumbag when it comes to funding. Then there are the full time scumbags who lie about the policy because they KNOW they will not fund it.

Bottom Line: Some bureaucrats cannot do their jobs and others do useless jobs, but those who want to do useful jobs should get the resources they need.

2 comments:

  1. Re: 1 Replace central budgeting with user fees. Ask users (stakeholders) for priorities

    I would point out that that is exactly the model used by the National Futures Association (NFA) which is entrusted with the regulation of futures brokers etc. and which has failed so spectacularly in the recent cases of MF Global and Peregrine. It doesn't strike me as a particularly effective model.

    I guess it's clear that there's been regulatory capture at the CFTC, too. But I find it hard to be all that critical of an organization which has had its arms tied behind its back through repeated budget cuts in the face of increased duties, per the complaint in your post.

    It'd be nice if significant fines were levied, but until the capture of the gov't by the regulated entities ends, it's hard to see how it will happen.

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  2. @Freude -- I agree with you, since that's not what I was implying. Regulation of a common pool good such as groundwater can be funded by user fees since the task (monitor and limit g/w use to standards) is objective. I have a LOT to say about financial regulation, but I'd START by replacing bureaucratic discretion with market discipline, i.e., NFA brokers, et al. would have to carry insurance on their activities, provided by companies with skin in the game. The regulators would just make sure the insurance contracts were binding and insurers were liquid (according to a simple ratio, not a fictitious stress test). Regulatory capture is also a huge problem (see MOST of my "bureaucrat" posts :)

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