Academic journal article Public Administration Review

Stop Bashing the Bureaucracy

Academic journal article Public Administration Review

Stop Bashing the Bureaucracy

Article excerpt

We live in a time when the federal bureaucracy seems to have reached a new low in public esteem. Bashing it is the order of the day. As might be expected, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has come in for its share of criticism. In the House, a freshman member, Representative Charlie Norwood, R-GA, comments, "I continue to believe the best solution for OSHA is to close it down and spread every employee there out into the 50 states never to be allowed to return inside the Beltway." He continues, "A lot of these federal agencies have been in my life and in my pocket book and in my family's life and in my friends' life for a long time, and it gives one great pleasure to fight `em back'" (Victor, 1995, p. 2001). A story circulates (falsely) that OSHA bureaucrats have issued a regulation prohibiting dentists from giving extracted teeth to children, thus making the tooth fairy superfluous (Victor, 1995, p. 1999)! Some of these members are not fixed on particular agencies but feel that the federal government itself has become too large and that it needs a general down-sizing. This is the feeling of a dedicated group of Republican freshman members of the House. Calling themselves the "New Federalists," they have stipulated a great reluctance to vote for any budget resolution that does not eliminate cabinet level departments (Browning, 1995, pp. 2414).

While times are difficult, this is not the first, nor will it be the last, for bureaucracy bashing by members of Congress. This diversion has a long history in the United States. As early as 1866 California Senator James A. McDougall proclaimed: "Our City of Washington is filled with officials who have new duties to perform, offices to be made for them. You may go to any of the departments of the government and walk through during business hours, and you will not find one clerk in five who has any business to do except smoke a cigar and enjoy conversation with his friends" (Boykin, 1961, p. 34).


In May of 1879, Samuel "Sunset" Cox of New York delivered his "spit" speech in the House:

"Mr. Speaker, let any member of the House go through the government departments and look in the open doors; and except for women who work faithfully, he will find a good many clerks, when not engaged in reading newspapers, talking politics and spitting tobacco juice. There is no man in all the world like a government clerk for splendid spitting. There never were clerks or persons who could excel them in the flux of their salivary glands! No country, sir, rejoices in such great prairies, wonderful rivers, high mountains, and such a great people as in our own beloved land; but in one thing, sir, we surpass the world and ourselves. Our clerks can spit higher, spit farther, and spit more than any people on the face of the Earth-and get more pay for the performance! I still except the ladies from this salivary achievement" (Boykin, 1961, pp. 3-4).

During the famous 80th Congress (1947-1949), Senator Alexander Wiley, R-WI, sent a letter to every member of the Congress asking for 'tales from their collection of humor." (Wiley, 1947, p. xxiii.). Some of these dealt with bureaucracy. For example, Representative Howard H. Buffet R-Neb. offered a story taken from the days of the frontier:

"General Custer sent a message to Sitting Bull and said he would like to have him come in for a conference; that he had some men coming from Washington and he wanted Sitting Bull to talk to those men and work out a settlement.

Sitting Bull sent back a message to Custer and said, `Chief Yellow Hair,' he said, `I believe you and I would trust you, and I would have a conference with you but,' he said, `you have men coming from Washington. All men from Washington,' said Sitting Bull, `are liars'" (Wiley, 1947, p. 170).

Buffet allowed that though it had been a long time, "I am curiously reminded of that story by current happenings" (Wiley, 1947, p. …

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