The Failure of Bureaucracy: Case In Point

In several posts about the custody case in Texas recently involving the illegal seizure of over 400 children by the Texas Department of Protection Services, I lambasted the DPS for interfering where no interference was warrnated and suggested that agenices like the DPS concentrate on real cases of child abuse. Today I read a story about a five-year-old boy who was being abused by his mother and two female friends of hers and how the California and Los Angeles authorities, including the Deparment of Chidlren and Family Servies, the California equivalent of the Texas DPS, and several other government agencies failed this little boy by not following up on earlier indications of neglect and abuse. It took an anonymous call to a hot line to get the bureaucrats to get off their duffs and do something to protect the little boy from his own mother.

Read this article before contnuing, but be prepared to get disgusted and angry.

In the article one Los Angeles County supervisor describes the bureaucratic failure to follow up on warning signs regarding this little boy on a “silo-like mentality.” Well, I hate to be the one to break the news to this person, but that is the nature of a bureaucracy. Bureaucracies, by nature, are closed communities. Each department is very protective of itself and its turf. Bureaucracies, by nature, are self-serving, more concerned with their own self-preservation than with the people they are designed to serve.

And, with a few rare exceptions. all that goes double for bureaucrats.

I think the reason for situations like this, which occur way too frequently, is partly the result of the kinds of people who get these bureaucratic positions. People who think for themselves, who are willing to buck the system, who are willing to bend the rules in the name of the principles behind those rules. people who put the people they are supposed to serve ahead of the interests of the bureaucracy, are rarely hired for these positions. I know, because I took the state examination here in Arkansas to be a case worker for the Department of Human Services and scored quite well. I interviewed with three different local offices but was not hired because, although I think in a couple of the interviews I had the highest score of any applicant, I made it clear that I was more than willing to bend the rules in favor of the client if the situation warranted. And I know of a number of other people, both here in Arkansas and back in Chicago, who had similar experiences. One of them was an ethic Chinese refugee from Vietnam who went on to get a Master’s degree in social work from a very prestigious institution. She ended up starting a small private, not-for-profit social service agency in Chicago, and I worked for her both as a volunteer and as a paid employee for about five years.

How do we fix this problem? Honestly, I am not sure it can be fixed. The bureaucracy and the bureaucrats are so firmly entrenched now in American society that changing it or them is damn near impossible. I do know that it has to start from the very top and work down and it has to be done quickly. Changing the emphasis on who gets hired from hiring “cogs in the machine” to hiring those who are willing to buck the system is absolutely necessary. The willingness to show initiative and a willingness to put people ahead of the rules need to be rewarded, not punished. If that happens, the system can perhaps be saved. If not, nothing short ofa revolutionary solution, a complete overhaul of the political structure in this country will fix the system.

The way that bureaucracies normally fix the problems is by adding more rules. That is the last thing we really need. We have too many rules as it is. We need better people in the bureaucracy. Nothing less, nothing more. Then the government will become the true servant of the people it was meant to be.


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