May 25 2006

In the middle

Published by at 10:56 am under Washington

We don’t get enough explanations of the way things really work in the world, including the government world, and so we often get an understanding of things no more sophisticated than you can put on a bumper sticker.

Hanging around politics and you’ll often hear the call to save our tax dollars by cutting back on the number of bureaucrats in government. Okay – that sounds appealing. What happens if we try to translate that into reality?

In Washington state government, there’s a logical place to look for them. Tht state has something called the Washington Management Service, into which management-level people are grouped; the idea was to train a large group of state workers in management skills. The WMS has about 5,400 people in it. So when Governor Chris Gregoire called for cutting back 1,000 “middle managers” – her version of cutting back on the bureaucrats – the WMS is where she headed.

In an excellent column today, Peter Callaghan points out that this seems simpler than it is. The MWS has come to include a lot more people than just middle managers; many are people doing important work whom the state would like to keep, but expects to lose owing to low salaries; many of these people are bumped into the WMS, not to become middle managers but to increase their pay. And so we have – and this was a focus for Callaghan – “all eight of the senior [prison] chaplains have been told their jobs will be eliminated to help the department meet its quota for mid-management reductions. That leaves just one chaplain for every 1,000 inmates. ”

That’s how to cut bloated bureaucracy? Well, no . . . and this should constitute a lesson for any political figure who thinks the job of cutting – which certainly often has merit – is either simple or easy.

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