September 21, 2020

The Editor Speaks: Bureaucrats


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At some time in our life we all have had to fight with bureaucrats and bureaucracy.

In one of our stories today “Activist urges to grow marijuana after long wait for cannabis oil from Jamaica”, highlights the uphill battle he has had with “government bureaucrats” in getting the oil legalised here to help his wife who is suffering from lung cancer.

So who and what is a bureaucrat?

Just hearing or reading the name conjures up in your mind someone unpleasant.

However, is this really true? Would we really be better off without them?

The Merriam-Webster definition of a ‘bureaucrat’ is ”: a person who is one of the people who run a government or big company and who does everything according to the rules of that government or company : a person who is part of a bureaucracy”.

It also adds under “Did You Know?”:

“In French, a bureau is a desk, so bureaucracy means basically “government by people at desks”. Despite the bad-mouthing they often get, partly because they usually have to stick so close to the rules, bureaucrats do almost all the day-to-day work that keeps a government running. The idea of a bureaucracy is to split up the complicated task of governing a large country into smaller jobs that can be handled by specialists. Bureaucratic government is nothing new; the Roman empire had an enormous and complex bureaucracy, with the bureaucrats at lower levels reporting to bureaucrats above them, and so on up to the emperor himself.”

writing in PA Times under the title “Why Bureaucracy is Necessary” says:

“Bureaucracy never seems to be in favor. You hear statements like, “it got caught up in the bureaucracy” (to explain why an action was delayed).

“Here’s a pretty good definition of bureaucracy:

1. Government by many bureaus, administrators and petty officials.

2. The body of officials and administrators, especially of a government or government department.

3. Excessive multiplication of, and concentration of power in, administrative bureaus or administrators.

4. Administration characterized by excessive red tape and routine.

“Note the negative connotations in three of these definitions: “petty officials,” “excessive multiplication of, and concentration of power,” and “excessive red tape and routine.”

“At the federal level, we have extreme legislative complexity, as can be seen from reviewing the thousands of pages of the United States Code. As I stressed in an earlier column, agencies must attempt to correctly implement every sentence in the U.S. Code that applies to them. They can’t just focus on broad goals.

“In addition to applicable U.S. Code text, a federal agency must comply with applicable regulations in the Code of Federal Regulations and applicable . Agency employees must also cope with many other documents such as internal manuals, training materials, advisories, websites and computer documentation for a multitude of computer systems. If you put all of an agency’s documents on a table, it would be obvious to anyone that one individual or small group of individuals could not possibly perform all of the necessary work.

“Government agencies cope with complexity by adopting extreme specialization. Agencies also combine hierarchal organization with specialization because the span of control for managers becomes too wide within a flat organization. Each manager can only effectively manage so many people. Individual abilities vary. Organizations adopt a hierarchy that works for typical managers. A very gifted manager might be able to cope with more issues and manage a flatter organization. A below average manager might need a narrower span of control to cope.”

The article is way too long to republish here in full so if you want to read all of it go to:

He concludes with, “The results of bureaucracy may at times be disappointing. However, we need to bear in mind that bureaucracy is the only way agencies can cope with the complexity of the legislation and mission assigned to them.”

I appreciate what he says, however, the many bureaucrats I have had to deal with all seem to be of the same mould and the mould is not very flattering.

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