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Bureaucracy: What Government Agencies Do and Why They Do It

By James Q. Wilson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 20
Bureaucracy and the Public Interest

THE GERMAN ARMY beat the French army in 1940; the Texas prisons for many years did a better job than did the Michigan prisons; Carver High School in Atlanta became a better school under Norris Hogans. These successes were the result of skilled executives who correctly identified the critical tasks of their organizations, distributed authority in a way appropriate to those tasks, infused their subordinates with a sense of mission, and acquired sufficient autonomy to permit them to get on with the job. The critical tasks were different in each case, and so the organizations differed in culture and patterns of authority, but all three were alike in one sense: incentives, culture, and authority were combined in a way that suited the task at hand.

By now, nineteen chapters after these points were first made, the reader may find all this painfully obvious. If they are obvious to the reader, then surely they are obvious to government officials. Intellectually perhaps they are. But whatever lip service may be given to the lessons I have drawn from the agencies discussed in this book, the daily incentives operating in the political world encourage a very different course of action.


Armies

Though the leadership and initiative of field officers and noncoms is of critical importance, the Pentagon is filled with generals who want to control combat from headquarters or from helicopters, using radios to gather information and computers to process it. Though the skill of the infan

-365-

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