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In Defence of Bureaucracy: Governance and Public Values in a Digital Age

Part of the Public Administration and Information Technology book series (PAIT,volume 25)

Abstract

Almost from the moment the term was first coined, bureaucracy has been the subject of strong criticism and, if anything, such criticism has become more trenchant in recent decades. Numerous scholars, practitioners and politicians have talked about or envisaged systems of government/public administration which move beyond bureaucracy. These range from the tried to the theoretical. Others have forecast the end of bureaucracy—increasingly invoking information technology as a tool which can be used to achieve this end. In this chapter, a counter argument will be presented, i.e. that when it comes to protecting and vindicating public values in a complex modern state, bureaucracy can play a vital, and hard to displace, role.

Keywords

  • Public Administration
  • Direct Democracy
  • Deliberative Democracy
  • Network Governance
  • Public Governance

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Both Mosca and Michels’ books can be downloaded in English translation from the Internet.

  2. 2.

    The cost of intellectual honesty can be high. At the time of writing, the government of Greece has just launched a criminal prosecution against its own chief statistician on the grounds that he “exaggerated” the problems of Greek government finances. All he seems to have done was to apply the European Union’s rules correctly—something which showed the state of the country’s finances to be much worse than the government claimed.

  3. 3.

    “Gotcha” is shorthand for “got you” or “caught you”, i.e. popular press headlines when they catch civil servants or politicians allegedly misbehaving.

  4. 4.

    Steganography is the art of hiding in plain sight which is a form of camouflage or encryption. In this context, governments can bury the public in information in a way that makes it hard for citizens to see what is actually important.

  5. 5.

    Many years ago, I heard a senior Irish civil servant talk about her first day in the Irish Department of Finance (Treasury). Called to her “welcome” meeting with her principal officer, he looked at her and said “Welcome to the Department of Finance Miss Keane. Never forget, as long as you work here you are the taxpayers last line of defence. That will be all. Good day to you”.

  6. 6.

    A widespread criticism of modern corporate management and governance is that it only had to meet one criterion—shareholder value (which is usually conveniently aligned with the executive compensation system).

  7. 7.

    This became famous as a catchphrase in the British TV comedy series Little Britain.

  8. 8.

    Some systems, for example AI-based booking systems, already do this.

  9. 9.

    It is noteworthy that much early work on informatisation in the 1980s focussed on the potential of expert systems in law and public administration.

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Correspondence to Frank Bannister .

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Bannister, F. (2017). In Defence of Bureaucracy: Governance and Public Values in a Digital Age. In: Paulin, A., Anthopoulos, L., Reddick, C. (eds) Beyond Bureaucracy. Public Administration and Information Technology, vol 25. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-54142-6_3

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