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Breaking Through Bureaucracy: A New Vision for Managing Government.

This book is one of a number of trendy books about doing things differently. Particularly interesting for the finance professional is that it focuses on administrative and financial examples drawn from the experiences of the Minnesota state government in the 1980s. If you hate words like empowerment, customer service, adding value and total quality, and the ideas they evoke, you probably won't like this book at all. If you want to find out how some of the ideas are applied in the government sector, this book does it. Overall the book provoked thought about conventional ways central staff acts and about government growth.

Most of us in central administration are affected by beliefs and assumptions of the good-government movement of the progressive era. Oversimplifying, we learned that our role is to control and oversee just about everything and to protect the public from the marauding behavior of line departments, which, we all know, would spend every dime and more if we let them. As a result, we have detailed appropriations, approvals required to fill positions and stiff bidding requirements. The systems are set up to checkmate every move the departments want to make. This book suggests alternative assumptions and, as a result, alternative systems.

Because most of us hold such assumptions to one degree or another, the ideas put forward here are somewhat foreign. For example, the idea of customer service directly conflicts with the basic assumptions that departments should be controlled, and the author describes a workable model on how to deal with this inherent conflict. He suggests that central agencies have two different types of customers: 1) the city council, mayor or manager, who expect us to ensure compliance with policies, and 2) departments to whom, in some cases, we provide services. In matters such as tax collection, our real customer is the city council, which wants to ensure that there are sufficient funds to run the government. Our role is to ensure that the organization gets what is coming to it. The taxpayer is less customer and more complier. On the other hand, the author shows how departments that need people to fill positions to complete work are our customers and maybe we should be doing a better job of serving that need. I think the book is worth reading just to cause us to think about this role dichotomy.

A welcome aspect of the theories espoused here is that they go beyond budget and technology solutions. For the past 20 years, much of the significant government-improvement literature focused on new budget methodologies or new technology. This book provides a more all-emcompassing theory for management improvement.

There is a very seductive aspect to the new theory which made me forget for a while some fundamental principles. The author says that governments need to be driven by the idea of determining and providing the results that customers value. Is this private-sector view really applicable in the public sector? If followed to its spirited conclusion, it could lead to a government sector which grows even faster than it currently does, one where bureaucrats and politicians find a way to provide whatever the public wants. Should government jump into any situation and try to resolve the problem? The author's theory does not even bother to ask that question.

We need to ask the question: Is this the proper role of government? Businesses ask the question about what customers value because they dearly want to grow the company and increase sales and market share. Is that what we want of government? Earlier in the history of our country, debates occurred around the questions of determining if providing a particular service was appropriate, even constitutional. Now, too frequently, government rushes in to fill perceived voids. The new management theories may have a tendency to cause thoughtless growth of government services; this point is made to make sure that government does not blindly adopt business strategies. There is a difference in the two sectors.

I found the book choppy and hard to read. Some sections really grabbed my interest, but many were dry. But for the busy finance professional, it is short. There are voluminous footnotes and a number of appendices with sample documents which are helpful.

Breaking Through Bureaucracy is available for $14 from the University of California Press, 2120 Berkeley Way, Berkeley, CA 94720 (510/642-4562).

Reviewed by Timothy H. Riordan, finance director, City of Dayton, Ohio, and member of GFOA's Executive Board.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Government Finance Officers Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Riordan, Timothy H.
Publication:Government Finance Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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