A portion of our current political discourse centers on government, its failings, and how it should be different. For anyone seriously interested in understanding government bureaucracy, why it is, how it works, and how to think about change, I would recommend spending time with James Q. Wilson’s classic, Bureaucracy: What Government Agencies Do and Why They Do It (Basic Books, 1989, ISBN 978-0-465-00785-1).
Wilson’s references may be a bit dated, but his analysis provide a fundamental grounding by which one begins to understand the range of factors that define our experience of bureaucracy, and why it differs from agency to agency. For example, what does it mean for an agency to be efficient? Businesses might view this as having positive impacts on the bottom line, but agencies have multiple “bottom-lines.” Agency actions (or inactions) span clients, taxpayers, legislators, and special interests; each with varied capacity to effect agency actions.
It might not be worth reading word for word, but even skimming will yield useful insights.
Summaries and reviews of the text are available at…
- Wikisum.com (by Adam Brown)
- Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 1(1)
- FedBlog (by Alyssa Rosenberg)