Deregulating the Public Service: Can Government Be Improved?

By John J. Diiulio Jr. | Go to book overview

3
Can the Bureaucracy Be
Deregulated? Lessons from
Government Agencies

James Q. Wilson

NOTHING could be more striking than the emerging differences in managerial practice and theory between large corporations and government agencies. In response to foreign competition, market pressures, and the demands of dissatisfied shareholders, many corporations are becoming leaner, more decentralized, and more committed to identifying and serving customer interests. Though the details differ from one firm to the next, in general the strategies emphasize empowering lower-level employees and their immediate supervisors to make more decisions, flattening the firm's hierarchy so that messages and orders travel shorter distances, designing compensation schemes that reward good performance, and developing an organizational culture based on such concepts as total quality management. Some government agencies are also taking tentative steps along these lines, but for the most part public employees work in an environment of multiple constraints centrally imposed: decisions are made at the top, information filters through many levels, compensation is based on rank and seniority, and the organizational culture, implicitly if not explicitly, reflects an aversion to risk and makes compliance with rules more important than attaining goals.

For decades, private executives urged government agencies to adopt businesslike management techniques. Experienced public officials have always been somewhat skeptical of this advice because it ignored the profound differences between public and private organizations. Government bureaucracies must satisfy principles of accountability that are fundamentally different from those in industry. But despite their disparate perspectives, public and private executives often shared certain assumptions that made busi-

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