Breaking Through Bureaucracy / Edition 1

Paperback (Print)
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $1.99
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 93%)
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (30) from $1.99   
  • New (4) from $21.54   
  • Used (26) from $1.99   


This book attacks the conventional wisdom that bureaucrats are bunglers and the system can't be changed. Michael Barzelay and Babak Armajani trace the source of much poor performance in government to the persistent influence of what they call the bureaucratic paradigm—a theory built on such notions as central control, economy and efficiency, and rigid adherence to rules. Rarely questioned, the bureaucratic paradigm leads competent and faithful public servants—as well as politicians—unwittingly to impair government's ability to serve citizens by weakening, misplacing, and misdirecting accountability.

How can this system be changed? Drawing on research sponsored by the Ford Foundation/Harvard University program on
Innovations in State and Local Government, this book tells the story of how public officials in one state, Minnesota, cast off the conceptual blinders of the bureaucratic paradigm and experimented with ideas such as customer service, empowering front-line employees to resolve problems, and selectively introducing market forces within government. The author highlights the arguments government executives made for the changes they proposed, traces the way these changes were implemented, and summarizes the impressive results. This approach provides would-be bureaucracy busters with a powerful method for dramatically improving the way government manages the public's business.

Generalizing from the Minnesota experience and from similar efforts nationwide, the book proposes a new paradigm that will reframe the perennial debate on public management. With its carefully analyzed ideas, real-life examples, and closely reasoned practical advice, Breaking Through Bureaucracy is indispensable to public managers and students of public policy and administration.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Barzelay teaches at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, and his study of Minnesota state government reform was funded by the Program on Innovations in State and Local Government. Barzelay's text offers a practical examination of government management, while his extensive notes provide a theoretical critique of political leadership and bureaucratic administration. While similar to David Osborne and Ted Gaebler's Reinventing Government (Addison-Wesley, 1992) in arguing for more attention to outcomes (rather than inputs), empowered employees, and a customer orientation, Barzelay is less antigovernment and more pragmatic in his approach. His ``post-bureaucratic paradigm'' recognizes the importance of government and the problems of market-based operations. In addition, Barzelay's theoretical and less generalized arguments will make his work the more lasting critique of modern bureaucratic government. For academic and special collections.-- William Waugh Jr., Georgia State Univ., Atlanta
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520078017
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/1992
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 260
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Barzelay is Associate Professor of Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, and the author of The Politicized Market Economy (California, 1986). Babak J. Armajani served as an executive in the Minnesota state government from 1983 to 1991 and is currently a Senior Fellow at the Humphrey
Institute of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota.

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

Breaking Through Bureaucracy

A New Vision for Managing in Government
By Michael Barzelay

University of California Press

Copyright © 1992 Michael Barzelay
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780520078017

Chapter One
Beyond the Bureaucratic Paradigm

Imagine how government would work if almost every operating decision—including the hiring and firing of individuals—were made on partisan political grounds; if many agencies spent their entire annual appropriations in the first three months of the fiscal year; if appropriations were made to agencies without anyone having formulated a spending and revenue budget for the jurisdiction as a whole; and if no agency or person in the executive branch had authority to oversee the activities of government agencies.

This state of affairs was, in fact, the norm in the United States in the nineteenth century. That it sounds so chaotic and backward to us is due to the success of early twentieth-century reformers in influencing politics and administration at the city, state, and federal levels. As a result of their influence, most Americans take for granted that administrative decisions should be made in a businesslike manner, that the executive branch should be organized hierarchically, that most agency heads should be appointed by the chief executive, that the appropriations process should begin when the chief executive submits anover-all budget to the legislature, that most positions should be staffed by qualified people, that materials should be purchased from responsible vendors based on objective criteria, and, that systems of fiscal control and accountability should be reliable.1

William F. Willoughby, The Movement for Budgetary Reform in the States (New York: D. Appleton, 1918); Leonard D. White, Trends in Public Administration (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1933); Lloyd M. Short and Carl W. Tiller, The Minnesota Commission on Administration and Finance, 1925-39: An Administrative History (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1942); Fritz Morstein Marx, ed., Elements of Public Administration, 2d ed. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1959); Barry Dean Karl, Executive Reorganization and Reform in the New Deal (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1963); Aaron Wildavsky, The New Politics of the Budgetary Process (Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman, 1988), 53-63.

The political movements favoring this form of bureaucraticgovernment emerged partly in response to the social problems created by the transformation of the United States from an agrarian and highly decentralized society to an urban, industrial, and national society.2

Stephen Skowronek, Building a New American State: The Expansion of National Administrative Capacities, 1877-1920 (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1982).

For government to address social problems in an efficient manner, reformers said repeatedly, government agencies needed to be administered much like the business organizations that, at the time, were bringing about the industrial transformation.3

See, generally, Jack H. Knott and Gary J. Miller, Reforming Bureaucracy: The Politics of Institutional Choice (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1987), and Robert B. Reich, The Next American Frontier (New York: Times Books, 1983). According to Yale sociologist Charles Perrow, "The founders of organizations of all types and reformers of those that existed repeatedly held the industrial organization model—factories, by and large—as the important social innovation of the time. And it truly was." "A Society of Organizations," Estudios del Instituto Juan March de Estudios e Investigaciones (Madrid) (October 1990): 33.

For Americans supporting the reform and reorganization movements, bureaucracy meant efficiency and efficiency meant good government.4

In the words of historian Barry Dean Karl, these movements' beliefs and actions (as well as those of many New Dealers) were "in many respects a consequence of both industrialism and nationalism. The chief value of centralization rested on the increase in efficiency which it invariably seemed to bring to the growing urban and industrial chaos. But efficiency could also become identified with national purpose. The idea that human effort could be wasted when undirected and uncontrolled ... was central to the growing concern with efficiency, leadership, and planning." Executive Reorganization and Reform, 182-83.

Bureaucratically minded reformers also placed a high value on the impersonal exercise of public authority. To this end, they argued that actions intended to control others should be based on the application of rules and that no action should be taken without authorization. When officials' actions could not be fully determined by applying rules, professional or technical expertise was to be relied on to make official action impersonal.5

An excellent contemporary restatement of this outlook is contained in Jerry L. Mashaw, Bureaucratic Justice: Managing Social Security Disability Claims (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1983). For a discussion of the concept of impersonal administration from a sociological and historical perspective, see Charles Perrow, Complex Organizations: A Critical Essay, 3d ed. (New York: Random House, 1986), 1-29.

This outlook extended to hiring and purchasing. The consistent application of universal rules embodying the merit principle was expected to assure that government officials would act competently on behalf of the public interest, while simultaneously undermining the power of the party machines that dominated politics and administration.6

See Woodrow Wilson, "The Study of Public Administration," Political Science Quarterly (June 1887): 197-202. See also Skowronek, Building a New American State, 47-84.

The consistent application of universal rules in purchasing was expected to reduce government's operating costs and to have similar political consequences.7

See Steven Kelman, Procurement and Public Management: The Fear of Discretion and the Quality of Government Performance (Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute, 1990), 11-15.

The values of efficiency and impersonal administration along with prescriptions for putting them into practice in government constituted a compelling system of beliefs in the early twentieth century. This system may be termed the bureaucratic reform vision .

Persistence of the Bureaucratic Paradigm

The bureaucratic reform vision lost its hold on the political imagination of the reform constituency once civil service and executive budgeting had been put into place and the Great Depression posed new and pressing collective problems. As a belief system about public administration, by contrast, thebureaucratic reform vision survived—although not wholly intact—such political changes as the Great Society and Reaganism and a series of efforts to improve management in government including systems analysis, management by objectives, and zero-based budgeting. Among the legacies of the bureaucratic reform movements are deeply ingrained habits of thought.8

Other key legacies are institutional arrangements,including hierarchical executive branches and staff agencies, and organizational routines. These arrangements, agencies, and routines embed certain habits of thought into people who work in government.

These habits of thought and the belief system that supports them are referred to in this book as the bureaucratic paradigm .9

A definition of paradigm that fits this usage is "the basic way of perceiving, thinking, valuing, and doing associated with a particular vision of reality. A dominant paradigm is seldom if ever stated explicitly; it exists as unquestioned, tacit understanding that is transmitted through culture and in succeeding generations through direct experience rather than being taught." Willis Harmon, An Incomplete Guide to the Future (New York: Norton, 1970), quoted in Joel Arthur Barker, Discovering the Future: The Business of Paradigms (St. Paul, Minn.: ILI Press, 1985), 13-14. A similar locution can be found in the literature on public administration: "Each of us lives with several paradigms at any given time.... As it appears appropriate, each of us moves in and out of paradigms throughout any work day, and with scarcely a thought about the belief and values systems that undergird them." Yvonna S. Lincoln, "Introduction," in Organizational Theory and Inquiry: The Paradigm Revolution, ed. Yvonna S. Lincoln (Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage, 1985), 30. The word paradigm began to be used in natural scientific and social scientific communities after publication of Thomas S. Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962).

In order to probe whether the bureaucratic paradigm is a good guide to public management a century after the reform movements began, it is important to be aware of the key beliefs it contains. The following beliefs are among those embedded in the bureaucratic paradigm that deserve close scrutiny.



Specific delegations of authority define each role in the executive branch. Officials carrying out any given role should act only when expressly permitted to do so either by rule or by instructions given by superior authorities in the chain of command. Employees within the executive branch are responsible to their supervisors.


In exercising authority, officials should apply rules and procedures in a uniform manner. The failure to obey rules should be met with an appropriate penalty.


Experts in substantive matters—such as engineers, law-enforcement personnel, and social service providers—should be assigned to line agencies, while experts in budgeting, accounting, purchasing, personnel, and work methods should be assigned to centralized staff functions.


The key responsibilities of the financial function are to prepare the executive budget and to prevent actual spending from exceeding appropriations. The key responsibilities of the purchasing function are to minimize the price paid to acquire goods and services from the private sector and to enforce purchasing rules. The key responsibilities of the personnel function include classifying jobs, examining applicants, and making appointments to positions.10

Institute of Government Research, "A Proposal for a National Service of General Administration" (Washington, D.C., 1929). See also Short and Tiller, Minnesota Commission on Administration and Finance. See discussion of administrative management in Karl, Executive Reorganization and Reform, 195-210.


The executive branch as a whole will operate honestly and efficiently as long as the centralized staff functions exercise unilateral control over line agencies' administrative actions.

Unraveling the Bureaucratic Paradigm

The bureaucratic paradigm has been criticized by intellectuals since the 1930s. Some criticized the idea that the formal organization is the principal determinant of efficiency and effectiveness.11

For a summary of this literature, see Perrow, Complex Organizations, 62-118.

Some urged that control be viewed as a process in which all employees strive to coordinate their work with others.12

Mary Parker Follett, "The Process of Control," in Papers on the Science of Administration, ed. L. Gulick and L. Urwick (New York: Institute of Public Administration, 1937), 161-69.

Some voices criticized the idea that the exercise of unilateral authority within hierarchies was a recipe for good government.13

Charles E. Lindblom, "Bargaining: The Hidden Hand of Government (1955)," chap. 7 in Democracy and Market System (Oslo: Norwegian University Press, 1988), 139-70; Charles E. Lindblom and David Braybrooke, The Strategy of Decision (New York: Free Press, 1963); Charles E. Lindblom, The Intelligence of Democracy (New York: Free Press, 1965). A related criticism was made by Martin Landau, "Redundancy, Rationality, and the Problem of Duplication and Overlap," Public Administration Review (July-August 1969): 346-58.

More argued that the meaning of economy and efficiency within the bureaucratic paradigm was conceptually muddled.14

Herbert A. Simon, Administrative Behavior, 3d ed. (New York: Free Press, 1976), 61-78; Herbert A. Simon, Donald W. Smithburg, and Victor A. Thompson, Public Administration (New York: Knopf, 1950); Robert A. Dahl and Charles E. Lindblom, Politics, Economics, and Welfare (New York: Harper Brothers, 1953); Karl, Executive Reorganization and Reform, 224-26; and James Q. Wilson, Bureaucracy: What Government Agencies Do and Why They Do It (New York: Basic Books, 1989), 315-32.

Many came to recommend that budgeters analyze social benefits and costs of government programs instead of focusing attention only on expenditures.15

See, for example, Guy Black, The Application of Systems Analysis to Government Operations (New York: Praeger, 1968); Robert Haveman, ed., Public Expenditures and Policy Analysis, 3d ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1983); Ida R. Hoos, Systems Analysis in Public Policy: A Critique, rev. ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983).

Some raised concerns about the tendency of line agency employees to adjust to staff agency's administrative systems by becoming constraint-oriented rather than mission-oriented.16

Wilson, Bureaucracy, 113-36.

A few intellectuals also found evidence for the proposition that the workings of some administrative systems contradicted common sense.17

Kelman, Procurement and Public Management, 52.

Many of these insights and arguments have been incorporated into mainstream practitioner and academic thinking about public management. Nonetheless, many of the beliefs of the bureaucratic paradigm have escaped serious challenge.18

The belief that politics and public administration are separate domains of social action was central to the bureaucratic reform vision. This notion has been criticized for decades by academics and educators. According to Wilson, "Political scientists never fail to remind their students on the first day of class [that] in this country there is no clear distinction between policy and administration." Bureaucracy, 241. We suppose that these teachings have had sufficient influence to merit focusing attention elsewhere. The bureaucratic paradigm's prescribed separation between substance and institutional administration within the administration component of the politics/administration dichotomy has received inadequate notice and scrutiny.

The most important recent conceptual challenge to the bureaucratic paradigm arising in the world of practice is the notion that government organizations should be customer-driven and service-oriented. A recurring aspiration of public managers and overseers using these concepts is to solve operational problems by transforming their organizations into responsive, user-friendly, dynamic, and competitive providers of valuable services to customers. Thinking in terms of customers and service helps public managers and overseers articulate their concerns about the performance of the government operations for which they are accountable. When supplemented by analysis of how these concepts have been put into practice in other settings, reasoning about customers and service helps managers generate alternative solutions to the particular problems they have defined as meriting attention. In many instances, the range of alternatives generated in this fashion is substantially different fromthat yielded by reasoning within the bureaucratic paradigm.19

Strictly speaking, in the public sector the concepts of customer and service are typically structural metaphors. Introducing new metaphorically structured concepts into an existing conceptual system makes a difference in how people reason. According to George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, "New metaphors have the power to create a new reality. This can begin to happen when we start to comprehend our experience in terms of a metaphor, and it becomes a deeper reality when we begin to act in terms of it. If a new metaphor enters the conceptual system that we base our actions on, it will alter that conceptual system and the perceptions and actions that the system gives rise to. Much of cultural change arises from the introduction of new metaphorical concepts and the loss of old ones. For example, the Westernization of cultures throughout the world is partly a matter of introducing the 'time is money' metaphor into those cultures." Metaphors We Live By (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), 145.

Many public officials, alert to the power of these conceptual resources in the contemporary United States, are identifying those whom they believe to be their customers and are using methods of strategic service management to improve their operations.20

The forces making customer service attractive as a conceptual scheme include the emergence of services as the nation's leading sector, a climate that makes privatization in its various forms an ever-present possibility, public discontent with bureaucracy, renewed appreciation for market-oriented forms of social coordination, technological innovation (especially in information systems), directives from the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the availability of training monies. The list could be extended. The social and intellectual history of the movement under way has yet to be written.

For example, the U.S. Army Recruiting Command has developed an extremely sophisticated strategy to attract its external customers—qualified young Americans—to join the military.21

See the John F. Kennedy School of Government case study "The Army and REQUEST," by Steven Kelman.

This strategy is designed to satisfy these customers' needs for guaranteed future employment, occupational training, immediate income, self-esteem, individuality, and fair treatment so as to meet the internal customers' needs for a high-quality workforce. The Army recruiting operation's key service concept—reinforced by television advertising—is to provide external customers a "guaranteed reservation" for "seats" in training programs for specific military occupations. To support this service concept, Army contractors engineered a sophisticated information system known as REQUEST. Operated by specialized recruiters referred to as guidance counselors, the REQUEST system customizes the Army's offer of multiyear membership, employment, training, immediate cash, and other benefits. The more attractive the recruit—as judged from a battery of standardized tests—the better the offer. This example plainly illustrates how one government organization, in attempting to implement public policies—in this case, maintaining a large standing army capable of fighting wars and staffing it with volunteers—puts the customer-service approach into practice.22

The point of the example is not that the substitution of a customer orientation for the bureaucratic approach necessarily improves the operation of government; rather, it suggests that applying the customer approach is likely to alter what government agencies do, thereby changing the results of government operations. To evaluate whether the altered outcome constitutes an improvement requires an act of judgment and will. As an empirical matter, the judgment of the Army and its authorizers is that this application is desirable, on the whole.

Strategic service management is also practiced in situations where the government/citizen transaction is involuntary and when obligations are being imposed. An example of this kind of situation is the operation of taxation systems. Some revenue agencies now identify taxpaying individuals and businesses as their customers; others identify the collective interests of the people who pay taxes and receive government services as the customer, while conceiving of service provision as a way of cost-effectively facilitating voluntary compliance.23

Massachusetts took the first approach—see Massachusetts Department of Revenue, Annual Reports (Boston, 1983-84)—while Minnesota took the second (see "A Strategy for the 1990s," n.p., n.d., St. Paul, Minn.).

Such revenue agencies are making operational changes—for example, simplifying tax forms, writing instructions in plain English, providing taxpayer assistance, and building the capacity to produce timely

refunds—with the aim of making it easier and more rewarding for people to comply with their obligations. This approach to managing revenue agencies puts into practice in a compliance context two key principles of service operations management: first, that customers participate in the production and delivery of services, and, second, that the service-delivery process tends to operate more smoothly when customers understand what is expected of them and feel that the organization and its service providers are making a reasonable effort to accommodate their needs.

Formulating an Alternative

The concept of a customer-driven service organization is thus a tool used increasingly by public officials to define and solve problems.24

See Ron Zemke, "Putting Service Back into Public Service," Training (November 1989): 42-49, on improvements in motor vehicle licensing and registration services. See Mary Faulk, "Customer Service and Other Unbureaucratic Notions" (Olympia: Department of Licensing, State of Washington, n.d., Mimeographed). The John F. Kennedy School of Government case study "Middlesex County Jury System," C16-86-656, is another illustration.

At a higher level of generality, this concept also provides many of the resources needed to formulate a coherent alternative to the bureaucratic paradigm.25

Excellent academic critiques of more general versions of the bureaucratic paradigm can be found in Perrow, Complex Organizations, Gareth Morgan, Images of Organization (Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage, 1986), and Wilson, Bureaucracy. The service approach is not used by these prominent organizational theorists to critique the theory or practice of bureaucracy. Among the works we draw on in synthesizing the conceptual system of customer service are those written by business school academics and consultants: Theodore Levitt, "The Industrialization of Service," Harvard Business Review (September-October 1976): 63-74; Richard B. Chase, "Where Does the Customer Fit in a Service Operation?" Harvard Business Review (November-December 1978): 137-42; Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman, Jr., In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best-Run Companies (New York: Warner, 1982); Geoffrey M. Bellman, The Quest for Staff Leadership (Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman, 1986); James L. Heskett, Managing in the Service Economy (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1986); James L. Heskett, "Lessons in the Service Sector," Harvard Business Review (March-April 1987): 118-26; Karl Albrecht, At America's Service (Homewood, Ill.: Dow Jones-Irwin, 1988); Christian Grvnroos, "The Relationship Approach to Marketing in Service Contexts: The Marketing and Organizational Behavior Interface," Journal of Business Research 20 (1990): 3-11; William R. George, "Internal Marketing and Organizational Behavior: A Partnership in Developing Customer-Conscious Employees at Every Level," Journal of Business Research 20 (1990): 63-70; Christian Grvnroos, Service Management and Marketing: Managing the Moment of Truth in Service Competition (Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books, 1990); David E. Bowen, Richard B. Chase, Thomas G. Cummings, and Associates, Service Management Effectiveness (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1990); and James L. Heskett, W. Earl Sasser, Jr., and Christopher W. L. Hart, Service Breakthroughs (New York: Free Press, 1990). The public sector literature on service management includes Charles C. Goodsell, ed., The Public Encounter: Where State and Citizens Meet (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981).

The outlines of this alternative and its mode of identifying and attacking the vulnerabilities of the bureaucratic paradigm are already coming into focus. The following paired statements highlight the main rhetorical battle lines:26

The term rhetorical is not meant to be disparaging. On the contrary, rhetoric is a valuable way of mobilizing conceptual resources and evidence. See Giandomenico Majone, Evidence, Argument, and Persuasion in the Policy Process (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1989). See also Alasdair Roberts, "The Rhetorical Problems of the Manager," paper presented at the Annual Research Conference of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management, San Francisco, October 1990.



A bureaucratic agency is focused on its own needs and perspectives. A customer-driven agency is focused on customer needs and perspectives.


A bureaucratic agency is focused on the roles and responsibilities of its parts. A customer-driven agency is focused on enabling the whole organization to function as a team.


A bureaucratic agency defines itself both by the amount of resources it controls and by the tasks it performs. A customer-driven agency defines itself by the results it achieves for its customers.


A bureaucratic agency controls costs. A customer-driven agency creates value net of cost.


A bureaucratic agency sticks to routine. A customer-driven agency modifies its operations in response to changing demands for its services.



A bureaucratic agency fights for turf. A customer-driven agency competes for business.


A bureaucratic agency insists on following standard procedures. A customer-driven agency builds choice into its operating systems when doing so serves a purpose.


A bureaucratic agency announces policies and plans. A customer-driven agency engages in two-way communication with its customers in order to assess and revise its operating strategy.


A bureaucratic agency separates the work of thinking from that of doing. A customer-driven agency empowers front-line employees to make judgments about how to improve customer service and value.27

The rhetoric of customer service is becoming ubiquitous in statements of mission and strategy by government organizations. See, for example, U.S. General Services Administration, "1991 Strategic Plan" (Washington, D.C., 1990). It is also becoming commonplace in articles written for public managers. See, for example, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Administration as Service: The Public as Client (Paris, 1987); Zemke, "Putting Service Back into Public Service"; Steven Kelman, "The Renewal of the Public Sector," American Prospect (Summer 1990): 51-57; David Osborne, "Ten Ways to Turn D.C. Around," Washington Post Magazine, December 9, 1990, pp. 19-42; Barbara Bordelon and Elizabeth Clemmer, "Customer Service, Partnership, Leadership: Three Strategies That Work," GAO Journal (Winter 1990-91): 36-43; Monte Ollenburger and Jeff Thompson, "A Strategy for Service?" Public Management (April 1990): 21-23; George D. Wagenheim and John H. Reurink, "Customer Service in Public Administration," Public Administration Review (May-June 1991): 263-70; Tom Glenn, "The Formula for Success in TQM," Bureaucrat (Spring 1991): 17-20; and Joseph Sensenbrenner, "Quality Comes to City Hall," Harvard Business Review (March-April 1991): 64-75. Professional associations of public administrators are bringing these ideas to the attention of their members. See, for example, the papers presented at the 1990 National Conference of the American Society for Public Administration, published in the Fall 1990 issue of The Bureaucrat. Executive education programs, furthermore, are increasingly using the concepts of customers and service. See Michael Barzelay and Linda Kaboolian, "Structural Metaphors and Public Management Education," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management (Fall 1990): 599-610.

The fact that this kind of rhetoric is coming into common use suggests that a new alternative to the bureaucratic paradigm—one that builds on much prior practical and intellectual work—is now available. As this alternative becomes well-formulated and well-accepted, it may become the frame of reference for most efforts to diagnose operational problems in the public sector and to find solutions to them. The time is ripe, therefore, to define as carefully as possible what this alternative is. Breaking Through Bureaucracy takes on this task.28

In undertaking this task, it is well to bear in mind two observations made many years ago by legal theorist Karl N. Llewellyn. First, "it is hard to take things which are unconventional or otherwise unfamiliar to the addressee and to get them said so that they come through as intended.... I say we all know this, and we all try to canvass and prepare, to choose words well and to arrange them better, so that they may become true messengers." Second, "there are no panaceas." The Common Law Tradition: Deciding Appeals (Boston: Little, Brown, 1960), 401-3.

In characterizing the post-bureaucratic paradigm, this book draws a series of contrasts with its bureaucratic predecessor at two different levels of generality. At the general level, the two paradigms are compared on their respective claims about how government production processes should be managed, how control should be exercised, and what ideas public employees should care deeply about. At the specific level, the two paradigms are compared on their claims about how relations among centralized staff agencies, line agencies, and overseers should be managed.29

The concept of the post-bureaucratic paradigm was introduced in Michael Barzelay and Babak J. Armajani, "Managing State Government Operations: Changing Visions of Staff Agencies," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management (Summer 1990): 307-38. The term post-bureaucratic has also appeared in a review of books on private sector management: Charles Heckscher, "Can Business Beat Bureaucracy?" American Prospect (Spring 1991): 114-28. The term is chosen for the same kinds of reasons that the term post-industrial society was. Furthermore, service paradigm is not an adequate label because we build a new conception of accountability and control into the new paradigm, and we wish to make a clear distinction between the often-conflated concepts of developing a customer orientation and introducing marketlike processes into government.

Targeting the Staff Agencies

Staff/line/overseer relations are an ideal focus for our attention because their historic pattern constitutes a major obstacle to continued experimentation with the customer-service approach. Staff agencies exercise enormous influence over themanagement of government operations because overseers give them authority to control all the inputs to line agency production processes: money, labor, information systems, data, office space, materials, equipment, training, travel, and the like. Staff agencies tend to exercise their authority in accord with laws and regulations whose consequences are rarely subjected to systematic analysis. Furthermore, staff agencies are generally known for their lack of responsiveness to what line agencies ask of them.30

Gordon Chase and Elizabeth C. Reveal, How to Manage in the Public Sector (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1983), noted that "overhead agencies use a variety of tactics to frustrate the public manager and maintain control over money and people" (p. 73).

Absent a change in their operational routines, staff agencies are the likely bottlenecks in the process of putting the post-bureaucratic paradigm into practice. This bottleneck is illustrated and analyzed in chapter 2.

Breaking Through Bureaucracy then explores an exemplary effort to eliminate this potential bottleneck, which, as mentioned in the preface, took place during the 1983–90 period in Minnesota state government. This effort initially foundered on resistance to change. Many staff agency employees were horrified by the idea that they should be responsive to line agencies. The head of purchasing insisted that if his unit were responsive, line agencies would buy Cadillacs instead of Chevrolets. Personnel experts envisioned the demise of "the system" of rules protecting merit employment, equal access, and affirmative action. Information managers worried that agencies did not have the expertise to manage information resources efficiently and effectively.

These fears reflected the cultures of the organizations for which such individuals had worked for most of their careers. They had internalized the values of impersonal administration and economy and efficiency, as well as the reformers' belief that line agencies were staffed by people who would subvert the public interest if not strictly controlled by central authorities. To them, being responsive to agencies implied abandoning their missions.

In instigating organizational change, executives in the Department of Administration made use of the conceptual resources discussed above.31

The writings that encouraged the executives to use the customer concept included Peter F. Drucker, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices (New York: Harper & Row, 1973); and Peters and Waterman, In Search of Excellence.

At first, most managers looked puzzled when asked to identify their customers. "It was an interesting question to them, but it wasn't one that had been thought through at all," recalls the assistant commissioner of administration for

agency services at the time.32

Babak J. Armajani, assistant commissioner, as quoted in "Introducing Marketplace Dynamics in Minnesota State Government," C16-88-826, John F. Kennedy School of Government, 3.

The term customer was simply not part of the working vocabulary of the department.33

In this book, the terms executives and managers are used in the same sense as they are in Wilson, Bureaucracy. The term employees is equivalent to Wilson's operators. The term executives refers to commissioners, deputy commissioners, and assistant commissioners. Examples of managers are the head of purchasing and the head of the materials management division, to whom the head of purchasing reports. In some contexts the term employees covers all three groups.

When pressed, a common response of staff employees was that the public as a whole is the customer. The executives were not satisfied with this answer. They knew that line agencies were angered by poor service quality, rising costs, and counterproductive rules, and that certain legislators were alarmed that control over line agencies was not being effectively exercised. Department of Administration executives therefore insisted that each staff agency decide whether line agencies or overseers were their customers.

Managers and employees working for internal services, such as the central motor pool and the central office-supply store, had always thought of themselves as providing services to users. They were willing to conceptualize users as clients but resisted the idea that users were customers to whom they would be accountable. The customer concept was even more problematic for staff units who were control-oriented. Their purpose was not to satisfy agency needs; indeed, some employees working in these areas said their purpose was control. Department of Administration executives argued instead that the purpose of control activities is to meet the governor's and legislature's needs for analysis of administrative policies, generalized compliance with statewide norms, and information that helps overseers hold line agencies accountable directly for their performance. They argued that overseers are the customers of control activities, just as line agencies are the customers of service activities.

Executives became increasingly confident in using the customer concept. They insisted that staff personnel identify their customers. They claimed that the principal responsibility of each staff agency's employees is to serve their customers. They made sure that employees knew what their customers believed constituted service quality. All the while, they had to explain why it is appropriate for staff agency employees to be accountable to either overseers or line agencies as customers.

The arguments crafted by executives made more sense to staff agency employees as they became more familiar with them. One manager recalls that for two years he thought the deputy commissionerwas "totally off his rocker," but that one day he "woke up and decided he was absolutely right."34

Interview with James Kinzie, St. Paul, Minnesota, December 1988, referring to his change of mind in 1986. Kinzie began his career in central purchasing in 1969. The deputy commissioner of administration in 1986 was Babak Armajani. This interview provides evidence for the claim that the kind of cognitive reorganization in which people like Kinzie engage is tantamount to a paradigm shift. On the psychology of paradigm shifts, see, for example, Barker, Discovering the Future, 34-39. (We disagree with Barker that thought or behavior leading to such a marked cognitive reorganization as characterizes a paradigm shift is adequately categorized as nonrational.)

Many others also came to similar conclusions. Filling some key middle-management slots with individuals who understood and agreed with this new way of thinking and working was instrumental to deepening its acceptance.35

James P. Kinzie, "From Economy and Efficiency to Creating Value: The Central Purchasing Function," paper presented at the Conference on Managing State Government Operations: Changing Visions of Staff Agencies, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, June 19-20, 1989, p. 9; John Haggerty, "From Control—thru Chaos—to Customer Service," paper prepared for the Conference on Managing State Government Operations: Changing Visions of Staff Agencies, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, June 19-20, 1989, pp. 7-8; Elaine Johnson, Joe Kurcinka, and Julie Vikmanis, "From Personnel Administration to Human Resource Management: Changing Visions of the Central Staffing Function," paper presented at the Conference on Managing State Government Operations: Changing Visions of Staff Agencies, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, June 19-20, 1989, pp.19-20.

Many other factors also came into play. Not least among them was building the organizational and technological supports that enabled staff employees to succeed in the eyes of their customers.


Excerpted from Breaking Through Bureaucracy by Michael Barzelay Copyright © 1992 by Michael Barzelay. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)