Backstage in a Bureaucracy

Backstage in a Bureaucracy: Politics and Public Service

Susan M. Chandler
Richard C. Pratt
Copyright Date: 2011
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  • Book Info
    Backstage in a Bureaucracy
    Book Description:

    Backstage in a Bureaucracyprovides a first-hand day-to-day look at running a large bureaucracy. Susan Chandler candidly shares her experiences while serving as director of the Hawai'i State Department of Human Services for eight years, while Dick Pratt, a public administration professor and advisor to numerous public and private organizations here and abroad, offers his thoughts on what these experiences tell us about the inner workings of government agencies. Their stories-some sad, some funny, but all educational-reveal the challenges and rewards of public service.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6093-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. ii-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-ix)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    The importance of state-level administration is growing in the field of public administration for several reasons. As decentralization of the national government moves to the states, the task of the states to accept, discharge, implement, evaluate, and fund depends heavily on each state’s administrative capacities (Bowling and Wright, 1998). As a laboratory of democracy, each state must have the capacity and the leadership to innovate and successfully bring high-quality and effective public services to the citizenry.

    Top-level state executives are important actors in the political, policymaking, and organizational processes of state government. Bowling and Wright (1998) note that the agencies...

  6. 2 What Kind of Person Should Be in These Jobs?
    (pp. 9-10)

    The challenges of heading a government agency are increased by the reality that the vast majority of the people appointed are not prepared by education or experience for many of their new responsibilities. This is a function not only of the difficulty and diversity of a public agency’s responsibilities, but also the intricacies of the selection process and the willingness of people to serve. Under the best of circumstances, it would be hard for them to prepare for these diverse duties unless they had come up through the agency’s ranks. However, this generally doesn’t happen. Appointed individuals usually come to...

  7. 3 Organizational Setting
    (pp. 11-12)

    In Hawai‘i, the director of DHS oversees an agency that historically has operated all state welfare programs, the food stamp program, public housing, child and adult protection services, vocational rehabilitation, and health insurance programs for the poor. Its mandate is to offer assistance to all people in the state who are unable to provide for themselves. Through its programs, DHS provides shelter, financial assistance, medical assistance, job training, childcare subsidies, and more. Millions of federal and state dollars and contracted services are provided to more than 200,000 beneficiaries.

    In fiscal year 2002 (July 1, 2001, to June 30, 2002), DHS...

  8. 4 In the Beginning
    (pp. 13-24)

    Newly elected Hawai‘i governor Benjamin Cayetano broke with Island tradition and put job announcements in the local newspapers asking interested (and qualified) people to apply for all of his cabinet posts. To review the applications and conduct interviews, the governor created a ten-member selection committee. The committee that interviewed me included Mazie Hirono, the newly elected lieutenant governor; several of the recently appointed cabinet members, including Margery Bronster, the attorney general (AG), and Earl Anzai, the Budget and Finance (B&F) director; John Radcliffe, an officer of the University of Hawai‘i (UH) faculty union; Charles Toguchi, the governor’s chief of staff;...

  9. 5 Getting to Know the Agency and Its Culture; or, Can Anyone Tell Me What’s Going On?
    (pp. 25-34)

    The size of DHS’s budget really does matter and certainly is an attention getter. In fact, while preparing for the interview with the governor, I read the briefing book and was stunned by the dollar amounts in the budget categories. At one point, I had to stop and count the zeros from right to left until landing at the startling figure of $1.2 billion. After the initial budget shock, the next shock was the fact that there were DHS offices spread out over every island (including Lāna‘i) and over two thousand employees. Students in the field of public administration believe...

  10. 6 If Only the Boss Really Had Power; or, It’s Not So Lonely at the Top
    (pp. 35-36)

    Being the chief executive officer of a large state agency seems like it would enable you to have a lot of power, and in some ways it does. But in many other ways, you really are simply riding a horse in the direction it wants to go. Most staff employees of public agencies do jump when asked to complete tasks. However, it is often necessary for the boss to say, “This is a mandate,” in order to ensure compliance. “This is an order” is a phrase not used a lot by social workers or professors. Though using it is not...

  11. 7 Finding the Right Help; or, with a Little Help from My Friends
    (pp. 37-41)

    There is a need for two types of employees in public sector agencies: people who have not worked in government, who see the issues differently, and who can bring fresh ideas and creativity to public sector problems; and people who are willing and able to operate within the constraints of a bureaucracy, who follow rules easily, and who can tolerate incremental improvements over a long period. Since employees in public sector agencies are mostly civil servants or contractors from the private sector, directors rarely have the opportunity to put together a fresh administrative team. They must depend on the staff...

  12. 8 Speaking in Different Tongues; or, When Cultures Meet
    (pp. 42-47)

    The challenge of understanding how things worked around DHS was not helped by my ingrained professorial style of asking questions, thinking out loud, brainstorming, making suggestions, probing, and playing with policy options before making a decision. The questioning and challenging style common among the faculty at a university could be quite upsetting to staff used to attending meetings in which the director was mostly informing everyone about a particular course of action she had already decided on.

    The culture of the organization had been to have each division administrator or staff officer meet alone with the director, either to learn...

  13. 9 The DHS Storybook; or, Hunting and Gathering
    (pp. 48-51)

    Because there needed to be a single source for information about DHS and relevant information was hard to find, we created the “DHS Storybook.” (This was something quite different from the annual report or “Transition Book” described earlier.)

    For example, whenever a director goes to a legislative hearing, there is an expectation that he or she will know the answers to just about every question asked, whether by a legislator, consumer, or advocacy group. Some legislators expect the director to answer questions, no matter how detailed, and are miffed when the director asks his or her administrator for help or...

  14. 10 Meeting the Legislature; or, Honoring the Honorables
    (pp. 52-61)

    A major difference between public and private organizations is the huge role that the state legislature plays in the life of the public ones. All policies affecting an agency must be passed by the legislature. Every budget item, program change, and employee position number must be approved by the legislature. Every question asked by a legislator should be responded to promptly, no matter how farfetched or difficult to answer. For example, an agency may be asked to predict the number of children who are likely to be abused or neglected next year. If the number provided is underestimated, legislators criticize...

  15. 11 Community Advocates; or, It Is So Much Easier to Advocate Than Administrate
    (pp. 62-65)

    Advocates are in the enviable position of never having to be accountable for the administration of the program for which they advocate. This instantly structures the debate (and conflict) between the public agency and the community. Legislators play a role in the middle. Citizens often have only a vague idea about how to make the things they want actually happen. Community activists therefore tend to push their issues and desires into the laps of legislators when they could be working more closely with an agency and, for example, advocating for more money to expand services or programs. There is a...

  16. 12 The Governor; or, The Guy Who Holds the Purse Strings
    (pp. 66-69)

    As the chief executive officer in Hawai‘i, the governor has a lot of power. The governor controls the budget and therefore the actions of his or her departments. The governor may elect to veto line items in the legislative budget, not spend appropriated monies, or restrict appropriations. Since the governor may choose not to allocate the money that has been appropriated by the legislature, he or she has the power to direct dollars where desired.

    The governor is the agency director’s boss. In Hawai‘i, there are sixteen cabinet agencies and the governor leads and manages all of them. This can...

  17. 13 The Cabinet; or, When Collaboration Seems Like…Getting Clobbered
    (pp. 70-77)

    One might expect that agency directors’ need for the governor’s (or legislators’) attention would be served by a rational process, but it isn’t. Like sibling rivalry, this process is often a zero-sum game. If DOH is being protected from cuts, every other agency must be cut more deeply to balance the state budget. While the goal may be interagency cooperation and presentation of a united front, directors quickly become advocates for their own agencies and thus less cooperative and collaborative.

    The governor’s chief of staff tries to work out disputes among the cabinet agencies. However, solving problems among ambitious equals...

  18. 14 The Auditor; or, Uh-Oh, Here She Comes Again!
    (pp. 78-80)

    A legislative audit in Hawai‘i is synonymous with stress and anxiety for people in public sector agencies. Most state agencies dread visits from the auditor because there is a long history of adversarial relationships between that agency and the state’s departments. The trouble usually begins when the legislature passes a resolution requesting a legislative audit of a department or program. Often the resolution’s purpose is unclear and the scope unmanageable. The large agencies already have federal audits and other annual managerial and fiscal audits, so another poorly framed one from the legislature is seen as time consuming and not particularly...

  19. 15 The Press; or, the Unkindest Cut of All…
    (pp. 81-83)

    The media play a crucial role in public policy formation. Their understanding often shapes the public’s support or opposition. If a newspaper, radio, or television station gets interested in an issue, it can make or break the matter. The media often can keep an issue alive or deep-six it. Emotionally charged issues like putting cameras in mobile vans for nabbing speeders (aka Van-Cam), or a vicious child abuse case, may stay in the headlines for months before they run their course.

    The governor, legislators, and affected state agencies are required to repeat their positions over and over again for the...

  20. 16 The Federal Presence; or, Will This Be Good for Us?
    (pp. 84-86)

    The bottom line is this: federal mandates are powerful. With a mandate things are much more likely to happen at the state level. While the legislature passes hundreds of new laws each year, adding to the thousands of statutes enacted since statehood in 1959, at DHS it is the federal laws that make state employees listen up. Many of the state welfare programs and services are either funded with federal funds (like food stamps) or funded in partnership with the states (like Medicaid). Some are funded in a block grant proportional to the poverty rate of the state (like temporary...

  21. 17 Innovation and Change; Can Anyone Do This?
    (pp. 87-96)

    While welfare reform initiatives were front and center at DHS—primarily because the federal government created a small window in which each state was required to make statutory and program changes—several other interesting initiatives were also being tried. Some were pretty easy; others were not.

    Implementing a statewide electronic benefit transfer (EBT) debit card system to replace the food stamp paper-coupon system is an example of an easy change. The trick here was to join a six-state collaborative and fly on their coattails as they worked through the sticky implementation challenges. Joining a mainlandhuimeant that many decisions...

  22. 18 Procuring Services; or, Hey, Didn’t We Contract That Out?
    (pp. 97-104)

    Thep-word (privatization) represents an interesting and complex phenomenon in the state of Hawai‘i. While everyone in a public sector leadership position has probably read the 1992 bookReinventing Government: How the Entrepreneurial Spirit Is Transforming the Public Sector, by Osborne and Gaebler, and has bought into its simple message that government should be more like the private sector, the devil is definitely in the details. Replacing bureaucratic administration with entrepreneurial management and designating a single leader who is fully responsible and thus accountable were the popular mantras of the day. Yet contracting out services or tasks to the private...

  23. 19 Lessons Learned
    (pp. 105-110)

    What does all of this add up to? In this section we pull together what seem to us to be important lessons from the reflections that make up this primer on organizational bureaucracy. We then share some thoughts on the prospects for improving public organizations.

    It is important to understand the difference between programmatic improvements (what the public wants) and bureaucratic improvements (what the staff wants). It is crucial to listen to what the staff knows and where the staff wants to go. Agency policies and the organization of state government are extremely complex. There must an inclusive conversation among...

  24. 20 Final Thoughts
    (pp. 111-117)

    Many Americans express frustration, and sometimes anger, with public organizations. In the extreme this comes out as, “Bureaucracies! Who needs them? We’d be better off without!” To wrap up this inside look at a public bureaucracy we share our thoughts about these frustrations. We begin with questions that echo the unhappiness:

    Why didn’t you (Chandler) force the issues and do more to improve things?

    Doesn’t your experience prove that change is hopeless and big organizations just can’t be improved?

    Isn’t it clear that the answer is to run public agencies more like businesses?

    When people get into these public sector...

  25. References
    (pp. 119-119)
  26. Index
    (pp. 121-123)
  27. Back Matter
    (pp. 124-125)