Random notions about bureaucracies

By John Rajcic9:20 a.m.Dec. 14, 2015
Herein are random notions about bureaucracies (rules from the desk), bureaucrats and anything else that may pop up. In the early 1900s, the word “bureaucracy” was a very positive word. Today, the word conjures up government workers who are more concerned with procedural correctness at the expense of people’s needs.
I was standing in line in Poway at The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for a temporary handicapped placard. No appointment, the wait was well over an hour, just to get to the clerk. Listening to the conversations, I did not hear one positive word about the DMV. The small talk led to governmental operations. One lady quoted Reagan in stating, “government is not the solution, it is the problem.” A couple of days later I asked people “what words come to mind when they hear the word bureaucracy?” The first word was DMV! Others said, “red tape, inefficiency, lifetime employment, cost too much and politicians.” More on the DMV later. Bureaucracy means that government is run by rules which are enforced by bureaus (offices or agencies) dedicated, basically, just to those rules. The original idea was to establish rules of law instead of arbitrary enforcement, which tended to corrupt. Max Weber maintains that “only through this organizational device has large-scale planning, both for the modern state and the modern economy, become possible.”
The bureaucracies of today were not envisioned by the founders of our Nation. Governments at all levels are bureaucratic in nature as is the Ramona Unified School District (RUSD). Some reflections about bureaucracies, how they work and how to survive working in one are scrambled in what follows.
Probably the best way for bureaucrats in high places and politicians to survive is to read Machiavelli’s, “The Prince,” among other things, Machiavelli maintains “it is better to break promises if keeping them would be against one’s interest.” That is why it is said, “fairy tales used to begin with once upon a time” and now they begin “when I am elected.”
Bureaucracies are impersonal in nature. More often than not, I attempt to break down this impersonal nature which in my mind stifles creativity, innovation and the full enjoyment of work. Further, rigid bureaucratic rules shield the incompetent as does the massive Education Code.
RUSD is the embodiment of a bureaucracy. It has been accustomed to doing things as they were done years or even decades ago, regardless of the cost and effectiveness. Being such, as Machiavelli stated, “there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.” It seems every objection has to be overcome, thus nothing is done and those vested in the status quo prevail at a huge societal cost.
I wagered that if RUSD did not fill a position for six months it would be discovered that it is not needed. The cemeteries are filled with indispensable people. RUSD is masterful at creating an insular and self-serving culture in which people reinforce each other, and it is human nature to follow conventional wisdom.
Now back to the DMV. Whatever measure is used, the DMV is very efficient in what it does and therein lies the rub. It is its impersonal nature that causes angst. To argue that the existing system is imperfect when compared to another system that is unobtainable may not be different than arguing that the current system is the best.
The Legislature is still responsible for establishing the rules that the bureaucrats follow. So elected officials still determine what bureaucracies do and, hence, democracy is still at work.
Now back to RUSD and the Common Core. Look at the awesome very, very, very costly expansion of bureaucracies, at all levels of government — the state, nation, school districts and county that Common Core has and continues to bring about. Somewhere along the line it was forgotten that all it takes to educate students is an effective teacher, a willing student and a supportive home.
What happened to the individual responsibility of the student and that of the home? The teacher as a professional has a personal responsibility to be proficient in pedagogy and content (their subject area).
Now back to DMV. The DMV may be unjustly maligned! Any other organization doing their work would have evils of its own that may even be greater in magnitude. The biggest problem in Afghanistan is the lack of a functioning bureaucracy that would create stability.
Enough on bureaucracies. Standing in line is why our democratic-republic works so well. I discovered as I stood in line, listening, that there are two types of complainers — men and women.
Ramona Unified School District Trustee John Rajcic stresses that this is his opinion as an individual and he is not representing the board.  In Ramona Sentinel