Sunday, December 7, 2014

Is Bureaucrat a Slur?

I got into an argument online today about cuts to the Canadian dept that deals with veterans.  I was noting/summarizing this piece by Murray Brewster that connected some dots: that there have been significant cuts on the personnel of this agency and especially in the parts that are responsible for processing claims AND the Auditor-General criticized the agency for processing claims slowly. 

The government and its friend on twitter claimed that with the cuts in bureaucrats, there would be more money for veterans.  As if the people being cut were not doing anything useful.  See, these were not government workers being cut but bureaucrats and bureaucrats are useless people who just take government money and don't do any kind of work that is needed.

Yeah, so I realized that bureaucrat can be a slur--that it demonizes those in an organization who might not be out in front producing the widgets, policies or, ahem, students/research that are highly valued.  They just happen to be pretty important for the functioning of the enterprise. 

Sure, I have complained about university admin a bunch, and have joined the multitudes of faculty who wonder why more and more money seems to go to folks who are not doing the stuff that is the essential purpose of the organization--teaching/research.  But we need to think clearly about the various kinds of positions that organizations fill:
  • that bloat at the highest levels can be quite problematic since these people make the decisions and they rarely decide to cut themselves and their kind;
  • that there is all kinds of middle level management and some manage and direct and others are more concerned with maintaining their jobs;
  • but the largest number of folks are exactly those whose job it is to implement the policies of the organization.  In this case, evaluate the claims of veterans and direct resources when the claims are legitimate. 
It is easy to claim that one is cutting the positions of faceless, wasteful bureaucrats, but the reality is that we have created governments to do stuff--administrate justice (um, not so much in the US lately), build and maintain infrastructure like roads, bridges, and dams, regulate various parts of the economy, and on and on.  While some parties want small government, most people want government to provide the services that they expect government to provide.  If the government has no staff, it cannot do the stuff people want.  Tis basic stuff.  But it gets to the key point--cutting government workers will mean less service at some point.  There is only so much "waste". 

This government is very, very focused on cutting personnel both to fulfill its promise of a balanced budget and because it is ideologically committed to smaller government.  Fair enough.  But cuts come with consequences, and when called out, they have to deny, deflect, dodge, dive and deny (the five d's of government).  And if the media and Auditors-General catch them and point out the consequences, it might help us to remember that the folks doing the government's business are not just "bureaucrats" but, dare I say it?, public servants.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well said.

-The Public Service