Essay on Bureaucracy: it’s Meaning and Growth
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Weber's famous essay on bureaucracy provides a complex account of the form's features and internal organization, but for present purposes we can focus on only a few key dimensions. First, bureaucracies are governed by "calculable rules"--rules that are open, widely understood, and fairly applied--rather than by persons. The most important of these rules establish a hierarchy of offices, prescribing who can communicate with (and give orders to) whom. Another set of rules governs the admission of persons to the organization, describing clearly the accomplishments that make persons eligible for employment and articulating standards for advancement when vacancies arise. A third set of rules establishes routines for the performance of work: what tools are to be used to repair a machine, how many people must be in the cockpit to fly a plane, how many hours one can drive a truck without sleep, or how to fill out a purchase order for new supplies. Rules dictate who in the organization may do certain kinds of work: they tell us, for example, that only a radiologist may interpret a CAT scan or that only a union-certified electrician may repair a short circuit. And rules specify behaviors that are acceptable--pilfering wallboard from a construction site, importuning employees for personal favors, promoting one's cousin over more qualified candidates--ordinarily because such actions put an employee's interests above those of the organization. These examples, like many of Weber's observations about bureaucracy, seem obvious today. But that simply goes to show how successful the bureaucratic form of organization was, because few if any such rules could be found in most organizations before the nineteenth century.
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Now for matters less intriguing but more important to the disciplines, let us turn to the founders of modern public administration in the United States. Max Weber and Woodrow Wilson are often listed or implied as founders. Yet many of our texts still fail to make clear that Weber's famous essay on bureaucracy was essentially unknown in the United States until its translation into English in the mid-1940s. As for Wilson, absolutely no one in mainstream social science referred to or quoted Wilson's essay between the time of its origin and the appearance of the first edition of Leonard White's public administration textbook in 1926. None of the other three textbooks in public administration published before World War 11 refer to Wilson at all. This implies that Wilson is important to public administration, but not as a founder of anything lasting. Actually, Dwight Waldo may be given primary credit for disinterring Wilson in his 1948 volume, The Administrative State, after absolving Wilson of much prior influence on our discipline.