The Interagency, Cabal, Swamp: Required Or Expensive Waste?

In every organization bureaucracy is both critical and terminal. Years ago, I used a textbook for my Organizational Theory class that dealt with both mechanical and behavioral elements of developing an organization. The mechanical aspects included describing different types of organization structure like functional, geographical, and divisional. Behaviorally, the textbook dealt with the human comportment necessary for the successful exercise of a business model. It was in this textbook I was introduced to a theory associated with the crisis points of a business as it matures from its entrepreneurial to declining stage.

Typically, a business starts as an entrepreneurship. This is an exciting time. The founders are offering a new product or service that people find useful. The founder, and the people working with the founder, have a wide range of responsibility as they do whatever needs to be done to get the business off the ground. Eventually, the business grows to a point where it needs a bit more organization. A management structure is created to meet the need for effective and efficient processes. This is a critical point, and it necessary for the sustainability of the business.

After a while there is another crisis. Often, the management mechanism described above stifles the creative elements once experienced during the entrepreneurial stage. This is called bureaucracy. Policies and procedures are created so employees have standardized work, and the necessary rules are instituted to ensure all employees are treated fairly. I am greatly simplifying the process, but I think you get my point. The crisis at this stage of organizational development is even more dangerous. It not handled properly the vitality of the organization will suffer. If leaders are not careful, they rely too much on the bureaucracy which can stifle needed innovation and creativity choking out employee engagement. This bureaucracy can lead to a system having the capability of ravenous consumption of resources which can suck the energy out of an organization. This is what I call a swamp.

I mention this today because I see this occurring in our educational system and government. Recently, an education-reform activist, Sarah Carpenter, “expressed skepticism” about Elizabeth Warren’s education plan. At a November rally, Elizabeth Warren described “how she got an increase in Child Development Block grants of 85%.” She told the people in Massachusetts involved with child development that they were going to get an 85% raise “at all our little child-development centers.” The sounds wonderful. More money to develop children. The only problem is none of the 85% made it to the children. Michael Q. McShane and Jason Bedrick described what happened in their editorial in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. “You know how much of a raise they got? Zero! Somehow it all went to the state government and never made it down.”

It was the bureaucracy (swamp), the administrative system, that continued to grow, that ate up all the financial resources. Just recently here in good ole Washington State we saw the very same thing. Our legislature approved millions of dollars to pay teachers better throughout the state. The problem was, much of that money was eaten up by the administrative bureaucracy. This infuriated the teachers, resulting in teacher strikes across the state, and this does not just happen here.

Kenneshaw State University has been recording school grow for years. They have found “that from 1950 to 2015, the number of students in American public schools doubled and the number of teachers grew by 243%.” These are promising numbers, until we review the growth of the number of school administrators. “The number of administrator and all other staff rose more than 700%” during the same time period.  I think this gives us an idea of what is eating up so much of our resources.

This growth of the educational administration, in my opinion, is similar to what William Daft described in his Organizational Theory textbook. Our educational system has long since moved into the managerial stage of organizational development. This bureaucracy is now eating up financial resources that should go to the children. Parents have been trying to fight this swamp, especially in our inner cities by creating Charter Schools. These schools don’t have the administrative layers that get in the way of educating our young people. From what I have read this can eliminate waste and help provide resources needed to the children they serve.

Let’s look at some numbers. “From 1992 to 2014, per student spending at America’s district schools increased 27%.” I like that, and it seems reasonable. “Over the same period, average teacher salaries fell 2%.” Hmm, that doesn’t sound good. I can understand why teachers get a little cranky. The governor of Arizona planned to give teachers in Arizona a 20% raise “by 2020 providing funding to districts.” Sounds exciting, but what actually happened? “The Tucson Unified School District had other ideas. Local officials opted to give teachers smaller raises and finance salary increases for non-teaching staff, too.”  It is the swamp monster demanding to be fed that seems to be having a negative impact on our educational system. I think McShane and Bedrick have done a good job demonstrating how the swamp, bureaucracy, can eat up resources taking them away from where they are needed, all the while screaming “feed me Seymour, feed me.”

All of us understand this when it comes to government, especially at the federal level. In fact, during these impeachment proceedings we are learning quite a bit about the “interagency.” Somebody should make a film titled, “The Interagency.” Matt Damon could star as the secret agent who exposes it. The Blacklist, a television show starring James Spader as Raymond Reddington, explored a similar theme with the interagency evil called the Cabal. Carl Schramm uses cabal to describe the interagency, an off-the-books informal government organization used to make important government decisions. Schramm states, “The impeachment hearings will have served a useful purpose if all they do is demonstrate that a cabal of unelected officials are fashioning profound aspects of U.S. foreign policy on their own motion.”

Whether we call it the swamp, bureaucracy, Cabal, or interagency the fact is every organization develops activities that seem to be important but tend to be non-value added. In the Japanese philosophy of Lean Manufacturing, the protagonist is fighting against waste. The seven wastes, muda, are overproduction, queues, transportation, inventory, motion, over processing, and defective product, are all activities that fail to produce value for the customer. The customer will not pay for any of these activities. The job of the hero is to eliminate activities that are wasteful.

Two years ago, when I was in Ust-Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan I attended an accelerated improvement workshop at the Kazakh, American Free University. It was led by a lean group out of the Volga River area in Russia, with the organizing company being an automobile manufacturer in Ust-Kamenogorsk. People participating were learning how to eliminate waste from the activities associated with their work environment. I was impressed.

I know some bureaucracy is necessary, but I also know too much can be detrimental to success. I hope our educational and government systems hire a lean consultant soon. Maybe our kids can get the education they need, and our government will be run by elected officials rather than the Cabal.

And that is my thought for the day!


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