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Posted at 2:08 PM ET, 03/ 1/2011

What the GAO thinks we can do without, part II

By Ezra Klein

A reader writes:

While the GAO findings are what they are, they are based on the faulty premise that the most efficient government is the "best" government. In fact, political scientists and scholars of public administration have long noted that government is not designed for efficiency because it incorporates other criteria for "good" organization like effectiveness, responsiveness to stakeholders, or capacity to perform critical organizational tasks. These criteria sit uneasily with one another and thus there are significant trade-offs that occur when government agencies are created or reorganized resulting in the duplication and fragmentation of services described in the GAO report.

At heart many of the GAO recommendations to fix these inefficiencies call for substantial structural reforms of the Federal government. While a structural solution to the problems posed by organizational design seems intuitive, the prognosis for successful reorganization in the Federal government is poor because of resistance from Congress (who would need to revise committee structures to reflect changes in the Federal bureaucracy), organized interests (who may benefit from existing structure), and bureaucrats (both appointed and career who may be motivated to maintain agency turf). While the public may dislike waste and inefficiencies in the Federal government in general, there also appears to be little support for cutting specific programs and services despite what political pundits and comments to your blog say.

It's true that America is a big country with a lot of organized interests, and some carving up of the government is inevitable. But while some of the resulting inefficiency may be benevolent, in that it gives voice to people who should be heard, too much of that inefficiency is toxic, as it begins to make the unorganized -- who are, after all, the overwhelming majority -- feel that the government isn't working for them. So just as special interests are engaged in a continuous effort to clutter government up with items and agencies that advance their agenda, the process of looking skeptically at governmental programs and asking whether they're doing something we want done should be continuous.

By Ezra Klein  | March 1, 2011; 2:08 PM ET
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Next: Forget smaller class sizes, part III


I think you should have added to your last sentence that if programs are not doing what we wish they should be ended! It's that decision to end a program that is so important to those of us "unorganized".

Posted by: ckessler55943 | March 1, 2011 4:15 PM | Report abuse

"government is not designed for efficiency because it incorporates other criteria for "good" organization like effectiveness, responsiveness to stakeholders, or capacity to perform critical organizational tasks"

I'm not sure why the writer feels efficiency doesn't play a part in these "other" criteria. (One could argue that the GAO ignores these when calculating efficiency, and that's a plausible assumption.)

But efficient effectiveness is better than effectiveness; efficient responsiveness to stakeholders is better than responsiveness to stakeholders; and efficient capacity to perform critical organizational tasks is better than capacity to perform critical organizational tasks.

Efficiency is good. Nothing in this argument tells me it's not.

Posted by: dpurp | March 1, 2011 10:41 PM | Report abuse

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