YOU LEARN VERY QUICKLY that you do not go down in history as a good or bad Secretary in terms of how well you ran the place. . . ."1 In these words, Michael Blumenthal summarized the difference between his experience as secretary of the treasury, where good administration was not rewarded, and as chief executive officer of the Bendix Corporation, where it was.
Both government and business executives are responsible for maintaining their organizations. At first blush, it would seem easier to maintain a public agency than a private firm. After all, every year some fifty or sixty thousand businesses file for bankruptcy; no government agency ever does.2 Government bureaucracies are not immortal; when Herbert Kaufman looked at the fate of 175 federal agencies that existed in 1923, he found that 15 percent no longer existed by 1973.3 But if not immortal they are certainly hardy: It is a reasonable guess that 85 percent of all business firms extant in 1923 were not still alive half a century later. Moreover, many of the twenty-seven federal agencies that disappeared had their functions and most of their personnel absorbed into other agencies. They did not so much die as undergo reincarnation.
But these statistics can be misleading. There are two reasons why organizational maintenance is harder in the public than the private sector. First, maintenance means not merely survival but prosperity; and prosperity in turn means acquiring both autonomy and resources. As we saw in the last chapter the autonomy of most agencies is sharply limited, and so a federal executive spends much of his or her time fending off challenges from rival agencies, coping with criticism from the media and interest groups, and trying to win or retain presidential and congressional support. The chief executive officer of Bendix Corporation also must cope with competitors and find resources, but unlike the secretary of the trea-