The Battle Against Burgeoning Bureaucracy

on January 27, 2012 at 12:00 PM

The word ‘bureaucracy’ does not conjure warm, fuzzy feelings for most people; in fact, it’s often considered a dirty word. In government, it seems inevitable. Many larger agencies would not run effectively without hierarchy and rigid structure, which often presents a frustrating set of challenges.

David Paschane, Organizational Architect at the Department of Veterans Affairs and an Associate Research Professor at UMBC, recently brought this issue to the attention of the GovLoop community and pondered why bureaucratization happens in the first place.

“In large organizations, especially those without an organizational architect, we end up with many dispersed efforts at controlling change, and in some cases, an over control of changes that has negative consequences,” explained Paschane. “The process is bureaucratization–codifying structure.”

The concepts of managing bureaucratization and maintaining control amidst change are nothing new, but perhaps there are new avenues to be explored. Now that a more connected and tech-savvy generation is coming of management age, many feel that different ideas about organizational structure and discipline are bound to emerge.

Fighting against the status quo at an established organization, however, is not always easy – and implementing cultural changes can be difficult if entrenchment exists. There is also the ever-present problem of silos and segmentation.

“Possibly one of our greatest problems is we implement programs and applications based on existing organizational smokestacks and not as an holistic organization,” said one senior executive who supports an agency’s chief information officer.

Looking at the organization as a whole, rather than the sum of its parts, is certainly a noble endeavor, but can any leader do this without hindering employee performance? Or creating unnecessary costs?

“Lean Government is the best answer I’ve seen,” added Josh Nankivel, a Project Manager and Senior Systems Engineer with, a contracting company that works with the USGS. “Treating each of the separate outputs as products to the consumer and mapping the current value stream for each product is a great place to start. Making the entire process from beginning to end (not just within a single department) and making it transparent to everyone involved is the only real way to make lasting improvements, and create a learning culture whereby incremental improvements are the norm instead of incrementally getting worse over time.”

Bureaucracy does not always have to carry a negative connotation, if one can manage it properly. Sometimes that means putting people before the organization.

NASA employee Joe Williams said, “The first step I’d take is to attract people with natural talents towards modifying systems, specifically towards reviewing existing systems for return on value and simplify or eliminate those systems that fail to deliver value. The second step I’d take is to legislate a “sunset clause” on all rules and regulations, such that unless acted upon to refresh, they would expire.”

About the author: Dorothy Ramienski Amatucci is a GovLoop Graduate Fellow and a Graduate Student in the Communications, Culture and Technology program at Georgetown University.