Bureaucracy: What Government Agencies Do and Why They Do It

By James Q. Wilson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
Constraints

BY THE TIME the office opens at 8:45 A.M., the line of people waiting to do business at the Registry of Motor Vehicles in Watertown, Massachusetts, often will be twenty-five deep. By midday, especially if it is near the end of the month, the line may extend clear around the building. Inside, motorists wait in slow-moving rows before poorly marked windows to get a driver's license or to register an automobile. When someone gets to the head of the line, he or she is often told by the clerk that it is the wrong line: "Get an application over there and then come back," or "This is only for people getting a new license; if you want to replace one you lost, you have to go to the next window." The customers grumble impatiently. The clerks act harried and sometimes speak brusquely, even rudely. What seems to be a simple transaction may take 45 minutes or even longer. By the time people are photographed for their driver's licenses, they are often scowling. The photographer valiantly tries to get people to smile, but only occasionally succeeds.1

Not far away, people also wait in line at a McDonald's fast-food restaurant. There are several lines; each is short, each moves quickly. The menu is clearly displayed on attractive signs. The workers behind the counter are invariably polite. If someone's order cannot be filled immediately, he or she is asked to step aside for a moment while the food is prepared and then is brought back to the head of the line to receive the order. The atmosphere is friendly and good-natured. The room is immaculately clean.

Many people have noticed the difference between getting a driver's license and ordering a Big Mac. Most will explain it by saying that bureaucracies are different from businesses. "Bureaucracies" behave as they do because they are run by unqualified "bureaucrats" and are enmeshed in "rules" and "red tape."

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Bureaucracy: What Government Agencies Do and Why They Do It
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface to the New Edition ix
  • Notes xvi
  • Preface xvii
  • Acknowledgments xxi
  • Part I - Organizations 1
  • Chapter 1 - Armies, Prisons, Schools 3
  • Chapter 2 - Organization Matters 14
  • Part II - Operators 29
  • Chapter 3 - Circumstances 31
  • Conclusions 48
  • Chapter 4 - Beliefs 50
  • Conclusions 70
  • Chapter 5 - Interests 72
  • Conclusions 88
  • Chapter 6 - Culture 90
  • Part III - Managers 111
  • Chapter 7 - Constraints 113
  • Chapter 8 - People 137
  • Conclusions 153
  • Chapter 9 - Compliance 154
  • Summary: Achieving Compliance 174
  • Part IV - Executives 177
  • Chapter 10 - Turf 179
  • Conclusions 195
  • Chapter 11 - Strategies 196
  • Conclusions 217
  • Chapter 12 - Innovation 218
  • Part V - Context 233
  • Chapter 13 - Congress 235
  • Appendix - Congressional Dominance: a Closer Look 254
  • Chapter 14 - Presidents 257
  • Chapter 15 - Courts 277
  • Chapter 16 - National Differences 295
  • Part VI - Change 313
  • Chapter 17 - Problems 315
  • Conclusions 331
  • Chapter 18 - Rules 333
  • Chapter 19 - Markets 346
  • Conclusions 363
  • Chapter 20 - Bureaucracy and the Public Interest 365
  • Notes 379
  • Index 409
  • Subject Index 418
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