Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bureaucratic Structure Has Advantages

Back in the 1990's, Secretary Glickman had an ad hoc structure set up to handle the "service center" initiative.  "Service centers" were the effort to consolidate USDA field offices and, possibly, to reengineer business processes and share operations among the service center agencies.  Management oversight came from a council composed of the heads of FSA, NRCS, RD, and maybe RMA.  Greg Carnill headed the effort, which eventually proposed establishing a "Support Services Bureau" providing IT and administrative services to the service center agencies in the field. See this for a Secretary Glickman speech defending the proposal in front of the National Association of Conservation Districts Spring Legislative Conference.  However, Glickman couldn't get the support on the Hill, and a few Congresspersons killed the proposal (if I remember, by a provision in the appropriations bill).

That's ancient history, but there's a point coming. The Jackson-Lewis Civil Rights Assessment says at one point they couldn't find any data where producers had previously given feedback on how well the agencies were doing.  Back in 1995-6, Len Covello, working under Greg, oversaw a survey effort.  I remember it well, to quote Gigi, because Len and I had had some problems over the years.  My point is: once the Support Services bureau was scrapped, the whole supporting structure vanished, and so did any institutional memory, as well as any likelihood of the bureaucracy repeating Len's surveys.  To the bureaucrats who were inside the agencies such surveys were NIH, something alien.

I don't know how you fix the problem.  You've got to combine the focus of a targeted effort, the speed gained by sidestepping bureaucratic hurdles, and yet get the old-line bureaucrats involved.

[Updated: corrected the name of the firm doing the assessment.]

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