Article by Jennifer Pahlka: “Former president Donald Trump wants to “obliterate the deep state.” As a Democrat who values government, I am chilled by the prospect. But I sometimes partly agree with him.
Certainly, Trump and I are poles apart on the nature of the problem. His “deep state” evokes a shadowy cabal that doesn’t exist. What is true, however, is that red tape and misaligned gears frequently stymie progress on even the most straightforward challenges. Ten years ago, Steven M. Teles, a political science professor at Johns Hopkins University, coined the term “kludgeocracy” to describe the problem. Since then, it has only gotten worse.
Whatever you call it, the sprawling federal bureaucracy takes care of everything from the nuclear arsenal to the social safety net to making sure our planes don’t crash. Public servants do critical work; they should be honored, not disparaged.
Yet most of them are frustrated. I’ve spoken with staffers in a dozen federal agencies this year while rolling out my book about government culture and effectiveness. I heard over and over about rigid, maximalist interpretations of rules, regulations, policies and procedures that take precedence over mission. Too often acting responsibly in government has come to mean not acting at all.
Kludgeocracy Example No. 1: Within government, designers are working to make online forms and applications easier to use. To succeed, they need to do user research, most of which is supposed to be exempt from the data-collection requirements of the Paperwork Reduction Act. Yet compliance officers insist that designers send their research plans for approval by the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) under the act. Countless hours can go into the preparation and internal approvals of a “package” for OIRA, which then might post the plans to the Federal Register for the fun-house-mirror purpose of collecting public input on a plan to collect public input. This can result in months of delay. Meanwhile, no input happens, and no paperwork gets reduced.
Kludgeocracy Example No. 2: For critical economic and national security reasons, Congress passed a law mandating the establishment of a center for scientific research. Despite clear legislative intent, work was bogged down for months when one agency applied a statute to prohibit a certain structure for the center and another applied a different statute to require that structure. The lawyers ultimately found a solution, but it was more complex and cumbersome than anyone had hoped for. All the while, the clock was ticking.
What causes such maddening bottlenecks? The problem is mainly one of culture and incentives. It could be solved if leaders in each branch — in good faith — took the costs seriously…(More)”.