Doin’ the bureaucratic boogaloo

Let’s try a thought experiment together, just you and me. First, we’ll set the scene. You own a company. A big company with thousands of employees, a budget big enough to choke a team of Clydesdales, and a customer base that numbers in the tens of thousands. Sadly, most of those customers are at least somewhat dissatisfied with the quality of the service your company offers.

And there’s another problem. You don’t actually have enough cash on hand, or credit, to purchase the supplies you need to provide some of the services you’ve advertised to your customers.

Oops. That’s not good.

Fortunately, you have supporters. Better yet, you’ve got motivated supporters who have the means to help your company. At least a handful of them see an opportunity to feed your company the cash it needs to purchase the supplies that will make it possible for you to deliver on your promises.

There is hope!

So one day one of those supporters walks into a branch office of your company, whips out their checkbook, and says, “I’d like to write you a check to fund the purchase of the supplies your company needs in order to deliver the services you advertise. Who can I make the check out to?”

If you’re like most people, your heart is doing a little happy dance right about now. Your problems are solved, or at least mitigated. Unfortunately, your glee is unfounded, because your company is mired in a repeating chorus of the bureaucratic boogaloo that prevents you from finding real success.

“I’m sorry, we can’t accept your check,” your employee explains with no perceptible facial expression or vocal inflection.

“But I’m here to solve the company’s financial problems,” your supporter says.

“I understand,” your employee responds with all the excitement of an automaton working on a lower than rated voltage, “but we can’t accept your check. We have no means of accepting or distributing money.”

“B-b-b-but…” your supporter stammers.

“Could you please move along?” Your employee remains as detached from reality as is humanly possible. “I can’t spend any more time with you discussing an impossibility like the one you’re suggesting. I have other customers to serve.”

Your formerly festive supporter walks dejectedly through the empty lobby, exists your building, and vows to never return.

That’s the end of the scenario. It’s also the beginning of real life. Because you really do own a big whopping company that is increasingly finding itself unable to provide the quality of service they’ve advertised to their customers. Okay, you don’t own the whole thing, but you own shares in the firm. And that ought to be troubling, because the exchange outlined above actually happens in the bureaucratic jungle of government offices on a disquietingly frequent basis.

If you’re in disbelief, go ahead and try to cut a check to your local school, or city hall, or the county administration, or the dreaded Division of Motor Vehicles. Give it your best shot. Maybe you’ll succeed. Perhaps they’ll be good enough to let you contribute to the public coffers and take some of the fiscal pressure off your friends and neighbors. Then again, maybe they won’t. It’s almost unbelievable, but there is a mindset in many circles of government that it’s easier to say “no” than it is to say “yes” and have to explain yourself to a supervisor. “No” is a perfectly understandable response to almost any question in government circles. “Yes” is much harder to defend — so “yes” is a rare response all too often.

Brewster Higley and Daniel Kelley wrote the American classic, “Home on the Range.” Their use of the phrase, “seldom is heard a discouraging word…” suggests neither of them spent much time trying to get anything done in a government office.

To be fair, this sort of scenario can play out in private business, too. In fact it does so often, but not for long. The private side has a powerful self-limiting factor that government does not enjoy. A private business can simply go broke. Once it has run out of money and credit, the issue of poor customer service solves itself. The company closes its doors and ceases to exist. The solution is brutal, but it’s simple and clean.

All is not lost for the government side, however. There is hope. And that hope resides in you. It’s not in your neighbor, or your best friend, or the lady down the street who’s always bitching about barking dogs, or even in the wonderful warm-hearted people you refer to as your family. It’s up to you and you alone.

If you become familiar with the people in positions of authority, become conversant on the issues, make it known that you’re focused on achieving progress more than you’re interested in getting credit for the work, and maybe you become a wee bit more persistent in your visits to government officials, you’ll start to find a way around “no” and work your way to “yes.”

Good luck!


  1. Jacques Dery says

    Larry Winget has it right: “Only results count”.

    Large corporation can be bureaucratic also. Large company can get large result but are deficient with those little things that make a difference in the eye of the customer.

    You know your company is becoming a bureaucratic “Government like” entity when:

    – the employee is lying to his boss,
    – the boss has no real authority
    – best employees and lazy employees get the same treatment
    – no-one cares except for their own
    – the client is not important
    — a recorded voice tells you “your call is important to us” and let’s you wait more than 1 minute on the line
    — you rely on CRM to keep your customers, not good personal customer service


  2. John says

    Who recalls the last AirVenture where the FAA asked EAA to cover the cost of ATC for that profitable event? A lot of the anti-gov rhetoric got dusted off and reframed so that our interest group would benefit from a special service. Too bad EAA ducked the opportunity to pay its way, and thereby earn the right to criticize Government spending. The same situation came up with the debate over contract towers. Same outcome. “It’s GA’s right to subsidies (though it’s never actually admitted in so many words) because of ‘safety’ …” Too bad the GA population did’t say “yep, all these towers at airports with not a heck of a lot of traffic really oughta go…” Instead, almost in lockstep, we wrote our elected members of Congress and complained about how it was “unfair”, “safety would go down the tubes…”, etc.

  3. Jeff says

    The problem is, it is a government. Look at it this way. Any government or governmental office has to answer to many. At your fictional company there is one boss usually the CEO. In government there are heads of the branch of government but also every legistator, who controls the purse strings, ie congress. We all know they can’t agree.
    No add to this list employees who are hired to make up rules and regulations, and then another group to enforce them and another to interpret them. They all are doing the job they are tasked to do. These jobs don’t exist in the private sector.
    It is the very nature of government to make and enforce rules and regulations, kind of like a pyramid scheme. So the very act of doing their jobs the governmental employees are causing confusion and creating undue hardship on the very people they were to serve. This isn’t an indictment of the governmental workers.
    This isn’t just the FAA it is every branch, every department, every office of government.
    Now add to this mix those who go above and beyond the true scope of their position and we really have problems. Just look at the new BMI regulations coming out of the FAA. Where was his boss that assigned him to look for more intrusive ways into our lives. Couldn’t he be better serving his constituents by looking at the 3rd class medical waiver?
    The solution is a total change of mindset of all in government and the populations perception of government.
    I was head of a division of a very large racing organization. We had a yearly meeting where all the commissioners would propose new racing rules and we would discuss problems. The problem is they would propose solutions, rules, to solve non existing problems. They thought their jobs were to make rules, so by gosh even if we didn’t need any new rules they were going to pass some.
    The next two years we threw out obsolete rules, streamlined the rules we had and guess what? Everyone was happier. The owners, the drivers and even the commissioners. Two years later I was out of office and another was elected and his commission went back to the old ways and the number of drivers started to fall again. New rules new regulations.
    Sound familiar?
    It isn’t simply a matter of cutting budgets or making government smaller, by themselves it won’t make any difference. The secret is a change in attitude and perception by the employees and the public itself.

    • James Carlson says

      I think you’re mostly on the mark about the rules-and-regulations mindset issue, but not so much about big companies. If you’ve ever worked at one, there are always the same sort of droids working on rules — ISO 9001, TQM, or whatever the buzzword of the day might be among the CXO elite — as well as individuals who exist just to pull the levers. So, I don’t think comparing government with corporations is particularly enlightening.

      I think “change in attitude” is the right issue. It’s a culture problem, not necessarily a people problem, because there are a lot of really good people at the FAA. A government agency that is explicitly tasked with promoting aviation could do a lot of good, but “promotion” appears nowhere in the FAA’s current mission statement.

  4. unclelar says

    In a practical sense there isn’t much we can do about government other to cut their budgets and make them do with less. I know, I worked there for 37 years. However, your metaphor is appropriate when it applies to our two main aviation orgs — EAA and AOPA. Thankfully, both of them have new management and it has already shown with EAA that improvements can be had with better leadership. The jury is still out on AOPA but I really don’t think it could be any worse than the country club, money grubbing style of Baker. Let’s support the new guy at AOPA and see what he can do.

  5. Tom says

    The IRS will take your donation in the form of a check if you want to help out the government. By the way I don’t like barking dogs just like the lady down the street.

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