Bureaucracy: What Government Agencies Do and Why They Do It

By James Q. Wilson | Go to book overview

The principal challenge facing public managers is to understand the importance of carefully defining the core tasks of the organization and to find both pecuniary and nonpecuniary incentives that will induce operators to perform those tasks as defined. Shirking is minimized by making certain that the proper performance of core tasks both enhances the careers of operators and confers upon them the esteem of their co-workers. The latter requires building a supportive culture around those core tasks. In William Ouchi's terminology the problem of "performance ambiguity" is managed by making the operating units of the organization into a "clan": a group having "organic solidarity" that is sustained by intensive socialization, both formal and informal.30 This is not easily done, which is why many public agencies have no sense of mission. But it can be done, even in agencies that lack any way of closely monitoring the behavior of key operators.


Summary: Achieving Compliance

Managers in public agencies have only a few incentives with which to induce operators to comply with agency rules, and the use of these incentives is highly constrained. In each of the four kinds of agencies described here a somewhat different mix of incentives will be employed. In production organizations managers are able to observe both the work and its results and so will be in a position to evaluate workers on the basis of their contribution to efficiency. They can ask whether a given result is being achieved with the minimum use of resources (or a given level of resources is producing the greatest valued outcome). Whether in fact they produce an efficient operation will depend of course on whether the agency is given the freedom and resources to do so. A production agency that could work more efficiently if it had good computers might be denied by a parsimonious legislature the funds with which to buy them. Or political superiors may not wish to achieve efficiency; they may desire instead to have the agency give favored treatment to politically privileged clients. Members of Congress may say they want an efficient Internal Revenue Service but in fact they want one that is efficient only up to a point--the point at which voters begin complaining that they are being harassed.

In procedural organizations the general bureaucratic tendency to manage on the basis of process rather than outcome is much magnified because processes can be observed and outcomes cannot. Since the work of the operators can be watched, it is watched all the time. Managers use many forms of continuous surveillance to insure conformity to correct procedures, ranging from direct observation to periodic statistical reports. The life of a soldier or sailor in peacetime is one of incessant scrutiny and

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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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