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Some Thoughts on Government Service

Based on Eleven Years Employment by State Government

Government workers are ineffective due to the nature of bureaucracy.
Each government worker should do his best in spite of this for two reasons.
  1. It may be important to society that the job be done and be done properly. There may be no other individual or organization working directly on this particular problem.
  2. If he does not do his best to accomplish worthwhile goals, he is wasting his time. Time is Life. Each person has only one life. Life is too precious to waste.
The output of an organization toward its goals occurs due to work by people at the ground level.
It is the supervisor's job to direct and to assist these people in maximizing suitable outputs. His job is to serve those producing worthwhile accomplishments.
The worker must work within the ground rules established by the organization although he if free to ignore rules and substitute common sense to the extent that he can get by with doing this.
When rules impede satisfactory job output, he should demand that rules be changed. If the organization will not change such rules, he should resign.

Comments from visitors to this page

From: Leon Felkins

Your essay avoids a very serious problem that dooms government service to forever be as it is or worse: Self-interest, or in general, the Social Dilemma.

Do you not actively pursue your own self-interest most of the time (I would say all the time)? Can you expect a government "servant" to do otherwise? Pursuing self-interest is labeled by social scientists and economist alike as acting _rational_. Do you want anyone, including yourself, to act _irrational_?

You say,
"Each government worker should do his best in spite of this for two reasons."

That will happen if the government worker is rewarded for doing his best. Otherwise it will not. Rewards determine action.

So, maybe we ought to be working on getting the rewards the way we want them!

You say,
"If he does not do his best to accomplish worthwhile goals, he is wasting his time."

I can't believe you said that! If "worthwhile goals" means "self-satisfaction" then it has some meaning, otherwise it is just pure pap, IMHO.

Answer from Duane

Leon is right, of course, that "worthwhile goals" is an undefined term and I did use it to mean "self-satisfaction". Actually I think rewards in any bureaucracy will always be awarded by the bureaucracy for advancing the "real" goals of the bureaucracy rather than the stated or "public" goals. The real goals will almost always be to maintain and increase and perpetuate the bureaucracy.

However, at least for some people, this will not provide "self- satisfaction" but actually accomplishing something considered by the employee to be worthwhile in the world outside the bureaucracy by the employee can be a reward. In other words, some employees are naive enough to actually believe the public relations output of the bureaucracy and really would like to make a difference in addressing the "public" goals of that bureaucracy.


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Last revised April 9, 1997.

URL: http://www.kyphilom.com/duane/govtserv.html

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Duane Bristow (oldky@kyphilom.com)

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All contents copyright (C) 1997, Duane Bristow. All rights reserved.