Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Kingpin (Kingbolt) or Mascot

The Washington Post notes a birthday party for a 40-year Justice Department bureaucrat:

"Few occasions would seem likely to bring together Alberto R. Gonzales, the Republican attorney general, and one of his Democratic predecessors, Janet Reno. But the party yesterday in the Justice Department's soaring Great Hall was no ordinary event.

Several hundred people from both sides of the aisle gathered to honor and poke fun at David Margolis, the associate deputy attorney general who -- as of yesterday -- has worked at the Justice Department for 40 years under 16 attorneys general."

I suspect most established bureaucracies have an old-timer around. In my days at Agriculture they often fell into two categories: mascots and kingbolts. Another name for a mascot was "a character", as in "that's so-and-so for you". Mascots often earned their keep as ornaments, rather than workers. They added flavor to the workplace and the office would have been diminished without their presence, but they weren't vital cogs.

Kingbolt is a term I got when I looked up "kingpin" at offers a secondary definition as the pin in a knuckle joint, as in a car transmission, while "kingbolt" is the pin that couples two rail cars together. Going back to my "clutches and shear pins" post, I can't resist the metaphor. A kingbolt is a career bureaucrat who has both the knowledge and personality to act as an interpreter between the political appointees and the bureaucracy. It's a two way deal: helping politicians to sort out alternative ways of achieving their objectives, heading off impractical ideas while ensuring the concerns of the bureaucracy get heard. (Bureaucrats are often like the Victorians, do anything you want as long as you don't frighten the horses.) Of course, sometimes they're the way the bureaucracy co-opts the policy maker but sometimes they're the way the policy maker alters history.

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