I doubt many realize how large the vested interest is in almost every government program one can think of. When I use the term "industry" to describe the driving force of the average bureaucracy, I am referring to those whose livelihood depends on the existence or expansion of whatever program they work in. I suppose one could exchange the term "industry" for "vested interests." Let me explain what should be obvious by using at least some firsthand examples.
I've said it before and will say it again, as it's so true and descriptive, and that is that the administrative structure of all state agencies looks like an upside down pyramid, with the largest expenditure of jobs at the top, and the lowest expenditures at the bottom trying to accomplish whatever the agency goals are without the resources.
An example? In my former agency, the Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, groups of homes for the disabled were placed into a "team," with one team leader earning somewhere around $90,000 a year, and an assistant earning around $60,000. Fine.
So, a team leader retires, that team is split amongst others, and a team leader position is eliminated. Great.
But wait a minute? What about that other assistant? Well, due to the addition of more clients and homes, it was deemed necessary to give the remaining teams an additional assistant with four people earning $60,000 each who replaced one person making $90,000.
Any savings there? Who made that decision? Bureaucrats.
Who approved it? Larger and more important bureaucrats, coupled with Albany level decision makers one can only refer to accurately as "political appointees," some might even use the term "hacks."
The exact same scenario was done many years ago when the title "Chief of Service" was eliminated and replaced with a lower paid position, making maybe 30 percent less money. Unfortunately those half dozen chiefs of service in two Developmental Disabilities Services Offices were replaced by a dozen of those lower-paid individuals. Again, any savings there that you can see? I am perfectly comfortable extrapolating those incidents to similar methods and incidents in every state agency in existence.
In all agencies, here's how the funding and staffing works; all agencies have a list of titles they can hire in any department. However, there is no way any budget will allow the filling of all of those items. So, choices need to be made. Let me assure you the priority of hiring will begin at the top, as we all know how overworked they are. There will be the almost proverbial "assistants to the assistants" hired first. Then we'll have to staff in such a way as to ensure all the necessary committees will be filled adequately, and supervision, LOTS of supervision.
Has anyone ever noticed that in every bureaucracy when problems arise, the answer always seems to include "lack of supervision"? I'm not sure how that happens, but I can tell you what occurs, and that is the hiring of more supervisors. It's never a question of competence; it's always a question of numbers, at least within state bureaucracies.
And finally we get to the lowest people in the chain, the people who actually do the physical work, be it case managers in public assistance, aides who care for the disabled, the guys actually driving the trucks and digging the water lines. But unfortunately by then, the money is running out, and the staffing at those levels is always bare bones, no extras, resulting in thousands of dollars in mandatory overtime costs.
Of course, the pressure to fix this falls to the bottom level employees, and they also bear the brunt of public scorn for whatever problems arise from that short staffing, things like overloaded case workers for welfare, overloaded probation officers, and on and on. But trust me, there's always a ton of staff above them sitting in meetings trying to figure out what's wrong. Most of those meetings involve eating and drinking coffee. Guess who pays for the food?
Like the Willow Brook decree that I mentioned in a past article, most bureaucracies are self-sustaining. They develop political connections, they vote in blocs, and often they align themselves with private groups with an apparent common goal, but in reality use them for more political clout. Only one thing can be better for any bureaucrat than extending the life of any program, and that is to enlarge it. Then of course there will be even more promotional opportunities and the chance to hire more upper level bureaucrats to spread the "work" around. Upper level bureaucrats always suffer from too much work - just ask them. As for the people working for them, the actual "worker bees," here's the worst of it. If one creates a position for someone, and gives them authority and an office, they will justify their job. They will do that by demanding facts and figures, reports, data and statistics, and use that for glamorous reports complete with color charts and graphs, and all probably showing their own need for an assistant. As for the "worker bees", well, they just had their time eaten up by the gathering of all that data and such, most likely at the expense of something else not being done or done poorly. Those things not being done or suffering poor quality are probably the actual goals for that agency.
So, when you ask why "welfare to work" programs don't work, or why Medicaid fraud is so rarely found out, it's because the people responsible for those tasks are at minimal or even below minimal levels, but they have more than enough people above them to eat up more of their time relative to the actual task at hand.
I'd love to see an actual dollar amount for high-level state employees who've retired and then been hired back "per diem" at huge amounts of money while still collecting their hefty retirements. This rarely occurs at any but the highest management levels, and these people are often referred to as "consultants." It would appear to me that if this were necessary that their replacements upon retirement were incompetent. I just don't see what else one could make of that other than flat out corruption.
My point is that no matter what, bureaucracies take on a life of their own, and their main purpose at the highest level becomes sustaining themselves more than doing the original job or tasks of the agency. When anyone as a frustrated taxpayer starts complaining about "public employees," try to remember that those people you are pointing the finger at are probably overworked and understaffed more than you can imagine, and the people you should be mad at are for the most part, invisible.
The reason every program in New York costs more than programs elsewhere is the almost incredible ability of New York agencies to grow and sustain themselves, and the unashamed political appointments to lead agencies of incompetent political hacks by our elected representatives. Programs for the Disabled, Education, Health Care, all of them, operate the same way.
And that my friends are but small lights shone on the vastness of what I call the "industry of bureaucracy", and how it works.
Paul Christopher is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org