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Quotations on Bureaucracy and Public Administration

"The reality in the public service is too often over-lapping mandates, unclear roles, fuzzy responsibilities and shared accountability" Kevin Lynch, Canadian Clerk of the Privy Council

"We have too high a tolerance level in the PS for mediocrity, sloppy work, and poor performance and we have none of the tools we need to unload people who don't learn from their mistakes and are content to coast along, secure in the knowledge that the system owes them something for just showing up. We are at a crossroads and many of the people who should be speaking up and driving change are running their pension numbers."  Anonymous Canadian Deputy Minister in a private letter

"We trained hard, but it seemed that everytime we were beginning to form up into teams, we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralization." Petronius Arbiter, Roman Satirist

"A memorandum is written not to inform the reader but the protect the writer." Dean Acheson

"Business and public administration are alike only in all unimportant respects." Wallace Sayre

"The bureaucracy takes itself to be the ultimate purpose of the state"  Karl Marx

"Simply stated, it is sagacious to eschew obfuscation."
"The weaker the data available upon which to base one's conclusion, the greater the precision which should be quoted in order to give the data authenticity."

"There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which  should not be done at all." Peter F. Drucker

"Join in the new game that's sweeping the country. It's called "Bureaucracy" Everybody stands in a circle. The first person to do anything loses." Anonymous

"We may not imagine how our lives could be more frustrating and complex -- but Congress can." Cullen Hightower

"When policy fails, try thinking." Anonymous

"Successive British Governments, especially those that take office intending large changes, have come to believe that their efforts have been frustrated by the system.  The Prime Minister takes the bridge and pulls. From below comes a grinding of gears - and nothing much happens."  The Economist

"Bureaucracies are designed to perform public business. But as soon as a bureaucracy is established, it develops an autonomous spiritual life and comes to regard the public as its enemy." Brooks Atkinson

“A democratic despotism is like a theocracy: it assumes its own correctness.” Walter Bagehot

“Bureaucracy is a giant mechanism operated by pygmies.” Honore de Balzac

“A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.” Edward Abbey

"The great dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding."  Justice Louis D. Brandeis

"Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."  Hanlon's Razor (from Murphy's Laws)

"How come there's only one Monopolies Commission?"  Nigel Rees

"It is hard to imagine today, but a hundred years ago bureaucracy meant something positive.  It connoted a rational, efficient method of organization – something to take the place of the arbitrary exercise of power by authoritarian regimes.  Bureaucracy brought the same logic to government work that the assembly line brought to the factory.  With the hierarchical authority and functional a specialization, they made possible the efficient undertaking of large complex tasks."   David Osborne & Ted Gaebler

"The only thing which saves us from the bureaucracy is its inefficiency."  Eugene McCarthy

"Not only does a bureaucracy tend to under-government in point of quality; it tends to over-government in point of quantity."   Walter Bagehot

"Management in government is harder than in the private sector.   There are many reasons for this: less clarity of direction, less control over resources, more relationships to maintain, fewer indications of success, less privacy, more influences to take into account in decision-making, less flexibility to motivate and reward subordinates."    Timothy Plumtre

"By the time the civil service has finished drafting a document to give effect to the principle, there may be little of the principle left."  Lord Reith

"Self-interest speaks all manner of tongues and plays all manner of parts, even that of disinterestedness."    La Rochefoucauld

"Are you labouring under the impression that I read these memoranda of yours? I can’t even lift them."   Franklin Roosevelt

"By the time the Deputy Minister presents a matter for decision to cabinet, he or she tends to present three options: " the unacceptable’, ‘the politically courageous’, and ‘the bureaucrat-preferred’ options.  As such, it is usually best to get down into the department to the person doing the first drafts of any policy." Honourable Donald Johnston

"There is no reason to believe that the people who staff the managerial and professional positions in our service institutions are any less qualified, any less competent or honest, or any less hard-working than the men who manage businesses.   Conversely, there is no reason to believe that business managers, put in control of service institutions, would do better than the ‘bureaucrats’.  Indeed, we know that they immediately become bureaucrats themselves."  Peter Drucker

"Throughout the public service, the experiences of the efficient and effective manager is that he is being penalized.  The very fact that he has good plans and measurement systems means that information will be used by central agencies and other critics to mount a strong criticism of his performance."  Anonymous official

"Waste in Government does not come tied up in neat packages. It is marbled throughout our bureaucracies.  It is embedded in the way we do business."  David Osborne & Ted Gaebler

"The man who is denied the opportunity of taking decisions of importance begins to regard as important the decisions he is allowed to take."    C. Northcote Parkinson

"A committee is a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured, and then quietly strangled."  Robert Katz

"Once it is understood that politicians are public relations officers for their publicity-shy bosses, the Civil Service Permanent Secretaries, Parliament and politics become intelligible."   David Frosst & Anthony Jay

"What I have noticed about bureaucratic programs is that for all their rules and red tape, they keep very little track of what actually happens to the people they are serving."   Tom Fulton

"An institution which is financed by a budget – or which enjoys a monopoly which the customer cannot escape – is rewarded for what it deserves rather than what it earns.  It is paid for ‘good intentions’ and ‘programs’.  It is paid for not alienating important constituents rather than satisfying any one group.  It is misdirected by the way it is being paid into defining performance and results as what will produce the budget rather than as what will produce contribution."  Peter Drucker

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