Fixing the Bureaucracy from the Bottom Up

Topics: Motivation, Public sector, Government agency Pages: 21 (6106 words) Published: April 9, 2014

Daniel K. Merwin
University of Northern Iowa




Whether it is the failed response to Hurricane Katrina, or the issues with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act website, public agencies continuously repeat the same mistakes, cementing their reputation as an inefficient delivery service. In his book The Next Government of the United States: Why Our Institutions Fail Us and How to Fix Them, University of Pennsylvania political science professor Donald Kettl (2009) gives us two examples of public agency issues: 1) Kettl (2009) uses his grandmother Mildred to demonstrate how a private citizen who receives public benefits will never actually interact with the actors who distribute their respective outputs (i.e. health care, in Mildred’s case) (p. 1-14); and 2) on a more macro-level, he uses the failed response to Hurricane Katrina to demonstrate how routines in the networked agencies, both private and public, are not sufficient in solving unexpected problems (i.e. natural disasters) (Kettl 2009, p. 14-28). He also points out an enormous problem in fixing such issues – the U.S. Congress – that has a habit of creating symbolic policy rather than effective solutions to problems (p. 112). This “tunnel vision,” as Kettl (2009) characterizes it, which is an inevitable result of the checks and balances system in place from our Constitution, stands as an immovable roadblock to public agency effectiveness.

Throughout his book, Kettl (2009) hits on several problems that our public agencies, or the “bureaucracy,” encounters: 1) A myriad of interlinked public and private agencies (publicprivate partnerships, or PPPs) have no specific superior to take responsibility for failures or issues; 2) The aforementioned dilemma where policy is decided by politicians who make decisions in order to remain in office first, not for solving problems or leading; and 3) Public agencies are doomed to repeat the same mistakes due to communication issues that are prevalent in both private and public agencies.



In order to resolve the three issues listed above, it is necessary for a new set of policies – a new standard operating procedure – for how public agencies, as well as PPPs, deliver services. The first step in creating such new policy is by further understanding the motivations of the individual worker and manager.

Theories, Models, and Possibilities
In order to manage workers, whether private or public, it is important to understand the incentives of the individual worker. Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan postulated the SelfDetermination Theory, an explanation of individual worker motivation, conditioned by socialenvironmental factors, organizational conditions, and organizational communication (Park & Word 2012). This theory stresses the concepts of extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic rewards for public employees can include pride from serving the public interest, or a positive sense of accomplishment for doing one’s duty, where extrinsic can be equal opportunity for upward mobility – such as a pay raise or promotion – or job security (Park & Word 2012). Whether these rewards are intrinsic or extrinsic, the central point is that in order for public employees to have motivation to excel in their job duties, they must have these incentives, for they are all people who act under the Rational Actor Model – they act in order to maximize their own preferences (Gormley & Balla 2013, p. 51). The organizations they are in must aid this rationality by providing work environments with incentives that allow them to choose their best options for themselves. When the work environment does not provide these incentives, which could also include failing to define tasks and jobs, employee behavior will be affected negatively, such as amotivated...

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