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Advanced bureaucracy 101 - restructures, reviews, re-organisation

By George Fripley - posted Tuesday, 15 July 2008

When in government, there is likely to come a time when you have honed your bureaucratic skills to such a point that you have achieved promotion to a reasonably senior level in your department. It is at this point that you will be in a position to implement advanced procrastination methods.

Now that you are in charge of large numbers of people, you will find yourself responsible for human resource issues, business planning, staff accommodation, and many more important administrative matters. All of these areas significantly broaden your influence and increase your ability to cause obstruction to progress.

The Operational Review

Whenever a branch, or even department, appears to be on the verge of achieving decision-making status, be this because an overzealous manager believes this is the purpose of the branch, or that procrastination options have been exhausted, the correct step is to order a review of the branch in question to investigate whether it is delivering the appropriate level of service.


This review will take up considerable time and distract the senior branch officers by requiring them to sit down and write tedious explanations and justifications of their activities.

An external consultant is often brought in to carry out the review. This consultant is unlikely to have any knowledge of the actual activities of the branch or the areas within which staff work, causing a great deal of time to be expended with repetitive explanations.

Their lack of knowledge is likely to lead to an extended review period and a good chance that their conclusions and recommendations will be totally inappropriate.

A bonus associated with the review process, and the lengthy period of time that it takes, is that staff within the branch are distracted and find concentrating on their work difficult because of the all the uncertainty that a review brings.

Added to this, rumours and stories are bound to start circulating about the likely outcomes of the review (often based on other rumours), which will further reduce productivity and stall decision-making processes.

A review is a grand opportunity to defer all decision-making until the outcome is known. As every department is reviewed on a semi-regular basis, it is almost guaranteed that one in every three years will be taken up with such a review and its consequences.


The Restructure

Once a review has been completed, one of the usual recommendations is that a restructure of the branch or department is required to accommodate the suggested changes.

This restructure will need to be carefully considered, as there will be robust debate about where different responsibilities should reside. The review will suggest one thing, while the staff actually involved with the relevant areas will, in all probability, have a different perspective based on practical and sensible considerations. These poor souls would be the ruin of the public service if they were allowed to get their way.

The possibility of a restructure will cause as much angst as the review process. Section Managers will all be jostling to ensure that they don’t lose staff members (whoever manages the most people wins!) or worse still, lose responsibilities.

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About the Author

George Friplely has worked in the public service for more than eight years, and in that time has risen to the dizzying heights of managing an agency (for a brief period of time). He has a great deal of experience in dealing with the day-to-day decision-making processes and has a wealth of knowledge about government process. He is currently in hiding among the stacks of files in his government department, hoping that his revelations do not cause him to become the subject of an ASIO investigation, or worse still, that somebody realises that he actually exists and sends some work his way! George blogs at and George's thoughts on government and bureaucracy are now available in the definitive government employees manual, You Can't Polish A Turd - the Civil Servant's Manual, published by Night Publishing. His next book provisionally titled The Dregs of History is due for release in 2011.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by George Fripley

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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