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Nov 14, 2013 (3 years and 11 months ago)

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1

I, Burocrat

Rough Draft


Abstract


I argue for a distinction between
accountability and responsibility,
revisiting the
historic
Joachim
Friedrich
-
Herman Finer
on the nature
of public administration
.

In these
pages


a
ccountability


means giving
an account
for one’s actions or
inactions to another. In the case of
pub
l
ic administration th
at

other is the
hierarchically superior, the ultimate
superior being the government of the
day embodied in a minister.

Responsibility


means feeling
responsible for one’s
action or
inactions so as to insure that they met a
professional
, external
standard which
includes neutrality. Accountability
serves best to limit actions and insure a
minimum compliance. It is one proof
against corruption. Responsibility
serves to elic
it dedication and
creativity from public administrators to
deal with the complexities of reality.
The conclusion is that both have a role
to play that is best understood if they
are distinguished. The argument is
made through a fictitious Wikipedia
entry

from the future which assumes
that only accountability counts!
Sometimes we best understand the
value of something we take for granted
when it is gone. In this entry
responsibility has evaporated.



“I, burocrat”

Wikipedia entry, 2076


The purpose of
this
Wikipedia entry is to
recover the origins of the

Three Laws of burocratics.


For while the laws are the
backbone of our system of
government their origin is
not

well known
.

According
to the Three Laws a
public
administrator

must:

1.

not harm a
minister
,

or, through inaction,
allow a
minister

to
come to harm.

2.

obey the orders
of

a
minister

except where
such orders would
conflict with the
First Law.

3.

protect its own
existence, as long as
such protection does
not conflict with the
First or Second Law.

Each la
w is set within the
knowledge a public
administrator has at the
time
.

The origin of the
Three Laws begins more
than a hundred years ago.



The story begins in

1937

when
Carl Friedrich
,
a professor of political
science at Harvard
University,

initiated,
apparently
unintentionally, a
sharp

debate with Herman Finer
on the relationship
between

ministers
and

public servants.
Because
Friedrich

wrote f
r
o
m an
American context and
Finer
in the

English

context
,
there were differences of
nomenclature.
To be
clear
,

let us start with
definitions of
these
basic
terms.
In th
is entry

a
minister is
a
politician
who is a
member of cabinet
either by
elect
ion
to a
seat and selection for
cabinet
or
is
appoint
ed to
cabinet by an elected
politician like the United

2

States pre
sident. On the
other hand,

a
n
administrator is a
profession
al

public
servant
.
This distinction
is made all the more
important by the long
running Canadian practice
of referring to
the
administrative
department
head,
who is
a
professional public
serv
ant,
as the deputy
minister
.
Let us set
aside that confusion.
In
what follows a minister is
a politician and an
administrator is a
career
public servant.


The few remaining
h
istorians

of public
administration

trace

the
Three Laws of Burocratics
back to this

obscure
debate.
What was the
debate about?
The central
issue in the debate can be
phrased as a tension
between accountability and
responsibility.
Friedrich
inadvertently opened the
debate saying
that
“a
responsible person is one
who is
answerable
for h
is
acts to some other person
or bo
d
y, who has to give
an account of his doings
and therefore must be able
to conduct

hi
m
s
elf
rationally” (1935, 30).
Finer, in commenting on
this

passage
draws the
conclusion that
responsibility

involves “a
relationship of
obedience

[emphasis added]
to “an
external controlling
authority” (1936, 580).
Friedrich goes on to say
that
“political
responsibility based upon
the el
e
ction of
legislatures and chief
executives [has not]
succeeded in permeating a
highly technical,
diff
erentiated government
service any more than the
religious responsibility
of well
-
intentioned kings”
(1935, 31).
That is to
say that the supervision
of elected legislatures
and chief executive has
been no more successful in
controlling
public
administratio
n than
religious kings could
infuse religion into their
retainers.
Finer takes
the most
serious
umbrage
with this observation,
calling it “truly
startling” (1936, 581).
He goes on to declare it
wrong and wrong.
Finer
crystallizes the
difference between
them as
the difference between “a
sense of duty” (Friedrich)
and “the fact of
responsibility” Finer.
The sense of duty as Finer
sees it is directed to a
profession, one’s own
conscience, or the public
interest. Each of these
three is abstract and
etherea
l. In contrast he
asserts the fact of
responsibility is
obedience to explicit
direction.
Finer
implicitly upholds the
prevailing orthodoxy that
politics and
administration w
ere to be
sharply distinguished, the
fo
r
m
e
r to direct, the
latter to obey

(Goodno
w
1900, 22).



3

For his part
Friedrich argued that
policy and administration
blended
together. Making
policy dependant

on
administrative
knowledge

of practical details and
likewise administration
involved political
judgement about what can
be done and what

cannot be
done in context.
Friedrich

argued this case
at a time of the expansion
of government services in
the early days of the
Roosevelt
Administration

with

a
consequent

focus on
administration to
deliver

those services. M
any

of
these services had a
t
echnical element
understood
directly

by the
administrator but only in
outline by the minister.
It was a prescien
t

argument given the
enormous
expansion

of
government that
shortly
followed in
remainder of
the Great Depression,
World War II, and the
welfare

state of the
post

war world.
Finer
likewise

realizes the all
-
pervasive
nature of government
(Finer 1940, 336), and
speaks of it providing 25%
of the happiness of the
people because it consumes
25% of the Gross National
Product (Finer 1936, 572).

The

or
thodox

distinction between
politic
s

and
administration

traces back
to
Max Weber

in
Economy
and Society

(Fry and Nigro
1996 and Van Riper 1984).

According to this
distinction,
politicians

decide
policy



what shall
be done
and how it shall
be done


and
ad
ministrators do it.
There is a sealed door
between the two
worlds
which open
s

only when
politicians

deliver orders
to administrators.
As
Friedrich made these
arguments

based, in the
main, on his observations
in the United States they
drew a sharp rebutta
l from
Herman Finer in the
England.
Further

exchanges occurred,
creating

the
Friedrich
-
Finer debate. Many
arguments

were made in the
debate but the key point
s
provide the kernel of
three laws
of burocratics.
Friedrich’s argument is
descriptive and norma
tive.
Ministers cannot supervise
public administrators in
detail as a matter of
fact, and they should not
do so for that would
stifle creativity in
context.

Finer’s reply was
likewise descriptive and
normative:
minister
s

can
and must supervise
administ
rators.
He argues
that responsibility is an
arrangement of correction
and punishment
including

dismal (1940, 345).
Ministers

must
supervise

administrators

in the name
of
democracy
, as the
elected
representatives

of
the people.
“Politicians
and employees

[administrators]
are
working not for the good
of the public in the sense
of what the public
needs
,

4

but of the
wants

of the
public as expressed by the
public” (emphasis in the
original, Finer 1940,
337).
Elections express
what the public wants.
Ministers

can supervise
administrators by giving
clear directives and
specifying

not only what
is to be done (
policy
) but
how (administration) it is
to be done.
Finer argued
that the
exact
obedience

to
orders

is necessary
(1940, 337) to make public
administrators
subservient
to the elected assembly
(1940, 338).


In reply
Friedrich

argued that the span of
activities
, the
technical

and scientific aspects of
many of
them

and the
complexity of interaction
among activities
combine
to

limit political
supervision. Bette
r he
argued to educate and
motivate

officials to act
responsibly

by inc
reasing
their prof
essionalism
through education. He
says
“Pious myth
-
makers
continue to suppose that
parliamentary
responsibility is enough”
(1940, 3). The reality
is, he argues, that

“even
under the best
arrangements

a
considerable margin of
irresponsible

conduct of
administrative

activities
is inevitable” (1940, 3).
He argues that n
either the
electorate nor the
legislative assemblies can
effectively bring out
responsible

conduct by
close supervision. While
popular and
legislative

supervision

may suffice to
keep government from doing
wrong, they do no suffice
to make it responsible.
Obedience is at best a
negative instrument to
prevent corruption in his
view.

Friedrich continues,
ma
ny errors trace back to
contradictory and ill
-
defined policy embodied n
faulty legislation (1940,
4). In more contemporary
terms we might say that
they trace back to policy
decision
s

made
in haste
to
placate vested interests
without regard to the wide
imp
lications, decisions
made to surmount a crisis,
decisions made without
careful legislative
dra
ughts
manship to avoid
contradiction and
duplication.
Happily, we
can say today that none of
these kinds of decisions
are now made.

“Public
policy
, to
put it fl
atly, is a
continuous process, the
formation

of which is
inseparable

from its
execution,”
says

Friedrich
(1940, 6). It “is being
formed as it is being
executed
, and it is
likewise being executed as
it is being formed.
Politics and
administration play a
co
ntinuous role in both
the formation and
execution” (1940, 6).
Though he acknowledges,
that “there is probably
more politics in the
formation of
policy
,
[
and
]

more administration in the

5

execution of it” (1940,
6). He goes on to explain
that many policies
are not
ordained at the stroke of
legislative pen, but
evolve slowly over time
and
administrative

officials
participate

continuously and
significantly

in this
process of
evolving

policy
(1940, 7).
Against such a
reality, Friedrich argues
that “a higher of
ficial
will hesitate to reverse
the
decision

of a

lower
official, when that lower
officials has a better
knowledge of the facts and
the details (1941, 49).
On the other hand,
Friedrich does severally
stress that where a rule
exists it should be
followed (
1940, 16 and
1941, 54).

With this background,
t
he difference between
Friedrich

and Finer might
be best
understood

by
making a
distinction

between responsibility and
accountability. Friedrich
argues for
responsibility
,
which

includes an inner
motivation,

and Finer
argues for
accountability
,
a direct external
accounting to another for
one’s actions.
Frie
drich

characterizes the
differences as between
enforcing responsible
conduct (Finer) and
eliciting responsible
conduct (Friedrich).
Enforcing takes the f
orms
of
explicit

instructions
and schedules of
punishment

for failure

to
obey
.
Eliciting

takes the

fo
r
m of professionalizing
public administration
through training,
education, and conditions
of employment that give
independence of a semi
-
judicial kind (th
is
latter, Friedrich 1935,
34). Friedr
i
ch

concludes
that enforcing can be
effective

for preventing
undesirable actions like
corruption, but only
eliciting

can be effective
for securing good effects
(1935, 33).

Friedrich contends
that bureaucracy exists
to
deal with needs identified
by government and the
challenge is make those
functions effective, not
to take power away from
them (1940, 10)

for fear
of wrong doing
. He
continuously

emphasizes
technical knowledge, as
the following paraphrased
example show
s: Take
agricultural policy. It
exists to help farmer
weather drought and
pestilence and other
unanticipated

calamities
beyond
individual

control.
A variety of programs are
called into creation to
meet this
goal
, crop
reduction
, price
-
fixing
,
monopoly m
arketing,
and
the like. Crop reduction
in
turn
leads to
processing taxes. These
taxes
require

reports,
inspections, and work
sheets. In this evolving
this
process where does
politics

end and
administration begin, asks
Friedrich (140, 6)? At
the bottom
is the

6

technical knowledge
master
ed

by the public
administrator for whom
that special expertise may
be a life’s work, and
this
technical knowledge is
derived from
nature’s
laws

which
are
always

enforced
(1940, 12
-
13)

even if
inconvenient politically
.
Frie
drich

concludes

that
we need both political
responsibility

(Finer) and
technical
responsibility

(
Fried
rich
) (1940, 14).
But we can no longer
maintain

the fiction

that

administrat
ion is aloof
f
r
o
m p
olitics and
conversely that
politics
is apart from
adminis
tration (1940, 15).

Finer, likewise
arrives at a moderate
conclusion.
He says that
if the political
neutrality of public
administrators “should
fall

under suspicion, we
should be faced with the
social tragedy that the
unskilled political
ministers would

hesitate
to accept the skilled aid
of the permanent experts”
(1936, 586), a passage
Friedrich might well have
written.
Yet Finer has
argued throughout that the
unskilled minister
commands the skilled
public administrator.
He
continues, the public
admini
strator is not a
moveable
piece

of
furniture (1936, 586) nor
an automaton (1936, 587).
More significantly, he
says, “I am willing to
admit an external agency
could not attend to every
administrative particular
without” damage, “some
latitude

must be given



both owing the t
echnical
impossibility of comp
lete
political coverage” (1940,
340
, emphasis added
).
The
result is that
administration may include
rules
, says Finer, which
look like

legislation

but
its essence is that the
administrator uses
bu
t

derived

authority

(1940,
342
, emphasis added
). Had
the argument
ended

there
it might seem that Finer
and Friedrich were
“furiously agreeing.”
However
,
Finer

goes on to
assert that those who take
Frie
d
rich’s

view are anti
-
democratic (1940, 346)

by
placing some mo
dicum of
public administration
beyond the explicit
control of ministers
.

It
has been argued that
Friedrich’s

view prevailed
in the post
-
war years
(O’Leary 2005)

as the size
of government grew.

The 1930s, when this
debate opened, saw the
rise of
European

fascism,
of which Finer was a close
observer from London. His
response

to
Friedrich

is
partly colored by that
knowledge.
On occasion h
e
interprets

the core of
Friedrich’s

argument to be
anti
-
democratic.
Specifically, Finer says
inward responsibility is

the hallmark of
dictatorial systems and he
goes on to mention Nazi
government (1940, 336).
The essence of democracy,
Finer adds, is the

7

“primacy of the people
over officeholders” (1941,
337), where elected member
of parliament are the vice
of the people
and office
holders are public
administrators.
Those
administrators

know better
than the elected
representatives

of the
people
what

is best and
must act on that
(technical) knowledge. In
cont
r
a
s
t, Finer argues,
with
Thomas
Hobbes, that
administrators

are
but the

bone and sinew of the
sovereign, which is the
government
-
of
-
the
-
day;
they are
instruments,
not
agents. Theirs is not to
reason why but to do as

they are

told even if it
does not make sense in the
local context for it may
make sense in the larger
c
ontext seen by the
minister.
That implicit
reference to the mistaken
Charge of the Light
Brigade in the Crimean War
leads on
e

to
thinks of
the
British

army officer
s

in
World War I who stuck to
plans in battle that were
visibly failing in
deference to a hi
gher
logic.

For his part,
Friedrich

saw ministers
and administrators as
partners. The
minister

and
administrator

together
pooling their knowledge to

develop policy through
interaction based on the
experiences

unique to each
perspective.
Administrators

are
responsible

both for the
letter and spirit of the
directives they receive
and accept.
Moreover
,
once a policy is developed
its implementation may
require
judgment

in
context
rather

as a
physician

make judgment
about when to tell
patients

what they hav
e to
know to manage reactions.
Thinking again
of

the
experience

of World War I
(which neither writer
mentions) brings to mind
Field Marshal
Graf
Helmuth
von Moltke
’s
maxim that
“No battle plan survives
contact with the enemy”
that influenced German
think
ing in the War.
Planning and
preparation
,
it follows, must allow for
flexibility when tested

by
reality
. Likewise, one
might

image

Friedrich

thinking that no policy,
however

carefully
developed
,
survives

intact
contact with the diverse
heterogeneous

real
ity of a
continental

federal system
like the United States.
Finer, surveying a smaller
scope in a unity
government, prefers the
tight rein of control.

Over the years these
poles evolved, but
nevertheless remain
ed

poles.
On the one side
there is Finer w
ith a
command and control
concept

of bureaucracy and
on the other there is
Friedrich

with an
entrepreneurial and
flexible
idea

of
bureaucracy
.
The Finer
command and control
approach places a near
absolute priority on

8

obedience to instruction,
while the Fr
iedrich
entrepreneurial and
flexible model speaks of
the discretion of
administrators to adapt
instruction to
the hard
ground of
reality guided
by a higher concept of the
public interest or the
common good that transcend
the government of the day.

Friedr
ich’s argument
partly rested on the
concept of a public
interest or common good
that stood apart from the
government of the day

and
superordinate to it
.
Accordingly part of the
duty of a public servant
was to consider that
enduring and general
interest
of

the nation
that transcended the
political interest of the
government

of the day
.

In multi
-
cultural
societies intellectuals
soon conclusively
demonstrated that there
was no such
thing
as a
public interest or common
good. Without faith in
the belief that

some
wider, deeper, and common
interest united a people
than the government of the
day Friedrich’s arguments
were weakened.

(Curiously many of these
same intellectuals decried
government policies,
programs, and practices,
but as their arguments
showed t
here was no master
narrative to legitimate
their criticisms, which
then fell on deaf ears.)

This argument took
many twists
and

turns and
government

grew
until

the
1980s when the size of
government itself became a
cause

of
concern
.
The
result was considera
ble
re
-
thinking about the
nature of government and
led to many changes to
reduce the size of
government by adopting
private business practices
(making corporation out of
public entities like
airlines and telephone
companies
)
, contracting
out pubic service
to
businesses, scaling
back
some services and the
like
. This is a well
known story of the times.
The search from the 1980s
on was to bring to
government market
discipline that made
business so flexible,
responsive, effective, and
cheap. The examples of
that inspired this trend
include
Adelphia, Arthur
Andersen, At&T Canada,
Barrings, Enron, Global
Crossing, Halliburton,
Hollinger, Maxwell,
NatWest, Nortel, Parmalat,
Qwest, Sunbeam, Tyco,
Waste Management, a
nd
World.Com
.

Interestingly

enough,
Finer and
Friedrich

both
cited private business

as
instructive
examples

for
public
administration.
When

each looked at
private business saw the
parts that supported their
case. Finer admired the
discipline and direction
of

business

governed by
the price mechanism (
1936,
583)
, while
Friedrich

praised the

9

resourcefulness

and
flexibility

of business
needed to win and keep
customers (1940, 20)
.
In
the end the size of
government was altered if
not exactly reduced, and
those who remained public
administrators
-

defined
as working directly for a
minister or under a public
service act came to b
e
regarded as burocrat
s,
though no historian as yet
has been able to identify
either the firs
t

time the
term “burocrat” repla
ced
“bureaucrat” in official
communication, though they
have been able to pinpoint
the date
when the
Microsoft Word
spellchecker came to
accept it, as the 1
st

of
July 201
7 curiously
coincident with the two
hundredth anniversary of
the first British North
America Act.

In time the
relationship of ministers
to
a
dministrators

was
codified into the
Three
Laws of burocratics
“in a
Civil Service where smooth
and sociable performance
was more
useful

than

individualistic

competence
(
Asimov

1959
,

76). These
laws were inspired by the
three laws of robotics
cr
e
ated by Is
aac
Asimov
.
While the public officials
Asimov
presents

struggle
with inner qualms about
some of the laws they must
enforce (1959, 32), the
robots do not. When a
human
says

in anger to a
robot “Don’t ever do that
it again!” The
positronically mind robot
replies “Never again
insist

on the
observation
of

the law” (1959, 38)?
“The essence of the robot
lies
in a

completely
literal
interpretation

of
the universe” (1959, 102).
In contrast, “a human
being can recognize the
fact that, on the
basis

of
an abstra
ct moral code,
some laws may be bad ones
and their enf
orcement
unjust” (1959, 104). The
Three Laws of Burocrats
were designed to secure
literal obedience and to
relieve burocrats of
conscience by defining
their role as obedience

only
.

Initially, the law
s
were rendered as absolute.
Thus the first law
prevented

an administrator
from obeying any
instruction

from a
minister that an
administrator had reason
to think might possibly
result in harm to the
minister

no matter what
the odds were
.
Complete
risk av
ersion.
Harm
itself had to be defined
as loss of
political

legitimacy

or authority.
Thus a burocrat could not
cooperate with a minister,
like
Roger Quaife

portrayed in C P S
n
ow
’s

historical novel,

Corridors of Power

who
devises a high risk plan
for unila
teral nuclear
disarmament
,

on the ground
that the plan might well
lead to the end of the
minister
’s

career as it
did in that case.
Of

10

course,
judging

political

harm is no
easy

matter.
Complete risk aversion
meant doing nothing.
While that was an
attract
ive option in time
a half
-
way point was
developed.
The present
state of
affairs

is that
administrators

must make
the
minister

aware of
potential political
risks
,
however slight,

and
thereafter
accept the
minister informed
direction.

The strict
construct
ionists
of the
Three Laws
maintain that
an administrator should
interpret the First Law
absolutely
, while the
revisionists contend that
interpretation effectively
freezes any change in
policy, program, or
practise
. Strict
constructionists agree

that it do
es so and so
prevents any change.


Equally, the Second
Law has been
tested

many
times. It has been
narrowed in meaning to
obeying any directive
from
one’s superordinate
ministers
that is
consistent with the law,
relevant

to the
administrator’s

statement
o
f duties, and concerns
the
public

business of the
minister
. Thus the
minister

can
not

require a
public
administrator

to
perform sexual congress
unless that is sti
pulated
in the duty statement
of
the public servant
or is
included in the duties of
the minist
er’s
portfolio.


Finally, the Third
Law has preserved an ever
decreasing nu
mber of
public administrators
employed under the public
service act.


Yet these law remain
imperfect, for as Asimov
(1959) has shown
repeatedly, a burocrat may
act against a minis
ter
unknowingly. This mistake
occurs when a burocrat is
but one set of hands among
many and participates in a
chain of events that bring
harm to a minister.


The last

remaining
Friedrichites

marginalized
in universities
, have
fo
rmulated

but dared not
p
u
b
l
ish a law prior to the
F
irst Law that they call
the
Zeroth Law
. This
un
pro
m
ulgated law states
that



0.

A
public
admin
istrator

may not
injure humanity, or,
through inaction,
allow humanity to
come to harm.


One sees immediately that
this law would
limit
mi
nisterial authority by
m
aking the
judgment

of
utility


the public good


prior to the obedience
of the First Law.
And so
a burocrat, acting on this
law, might say “Perhaps my
action was to your harm.
I am sorry if the general
good requires that,”
(Asimo
v 1959, 237),
chilling words no minister
wishes to hear from a
burocrat. No longer does
a burocratic say, “No

11

Minister, I do not work
for you; I work for the
public interest.

Friedrich quoted this
passage from John Gaus
(1936
, 39
-
40
) often: “the
respon
sibility of the
civil servant [Is] to the
standards of his
profession, in so far as
those standards make for
the public interest.”
This is a
corollary

of the
Zeroth Law in that it
makes a separate and
independent

judgment

by
the public servant
necessary.

Moreover, it
takes the exclusive
judgment of utility
from
the minister
alone
and
mak
es

the administrator
responsible
, at least in
part for making a
concurring judgmen
t about
the public good.
This
ridiculous idea is
maintained only by a few
irrelevant pro
fessors.


References


Asimov, Isaac (1959)
Caves
of Steel
. New York,
Doubleday.


Asimov, Isaac (1956)
The
Naked Sun
. New York,
Doubleday.



Finer, H. (1936). "Better
Government Personnel."
Political Science
Qua
r
terly

51
(4): 569
-
599.





Finer, H. (19
40).
"Administrative
responsibility in
democratic government."
Public Administration
Review

1
(4): 335
-
350.





Friedrich, C. J. (1935).
Problems of the American
public service
. New York,
McGraw
-
Hill.



Friedrich, C. J. (1937).
Constitutional government
and

politics; nature and
development
. New York,
Harper.



Friedrich, C. J. (1940).
Public policy and the
nature of administrative
responsibility.
Public
Pol
i
cy: a yearbook of the
Graduate School of Public
Administration
. C. J.
Friedrich and E. Mason.
Boston,
Harvard University
Press.
1:
3
-
24.


Fry, B. R. and Nigro L.G.
(1996). Max Weber and US
public administration:
the administrator as
neutral servant,
Journal
of management history
, 2
(1), 37
-
46.


Gaus
,

John (1
9
36). The
responsibility of public
administrat
ion, The
Frontiers of Public
Administration. (Chicago:
University of Chicago
Press).


Goodnow, Frank (1900)
Politics and
Administration. New York:
Mac
m
illan, 1900).



O'Leary, R. (2005).
The
Ethics of Dissent
.
Washington, D.C.

Congressional Quarterly.


12


Va
n Riper, P.P. (1984).
The politics
-
administration dichotomy:
concept or reality? In
Rabin, J., Bowman J.S.
(eds),
Poli
tics and
Administration: Woodr
o
w

Wilson and

Americ
a
n Public
Administration
. New York:
Marcel Dekker, 17
-
30.