A bureaucratic drag

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THE bureaucracy is said to be the institutional memory of any government. That is why transition work is serious work. Skipping it is the height of arrogance and sends a negative signal to the bureaucrats. Without transition, there is no smooth change in norm, behavior and work culture.

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This was the problem with the Aquino administration when it assumed the reigns of government. It didn’t want to do transition work with the outgoing Arroyo administration. Worst, it alienated the bureaucrats (mostly with CESOs) by lumping all those promoted or taking oath as mere beneficiaries of midnight appointments which BSA3 wanted set aside via one of his first two executive orders.

In other agencies, the Aquino appointees behaved terribly, setting aside old hands who knew the system and how to do things effectively, efficiently and economically. The upstarts classified the bureaucrats as old, lacking the energy to institute reforms and are just protecting the status quo. For the upstarts, they were all grouped and branded as Arroyo associates or beneficiaries. With this behavior, the bureaucrats decided to give the upstarts the floor and looked what happened to the bureaucracy, there was total halt. Until today, or five years after, the unhealthy condition prevails and some old hands are on a countdown waiting for the end of the Aquino administration and the departure of the “young, misdirected, arrogant barkadahan.”

At the service frontline, some of the old hands merely watched. “They thought they themselves can move agenda across the bureaucracy without us and from issue to issue, they would fall and would continue with their ways that waste much of agency’s budget and bloat the organization to bring in their friends.” Reform was made the excuse often. Old hands were saying “meetings became long and winding and they didn’t have the sense of urgency as well as tap the old reliable hands because for them we were the enemies and that we should not be trusted.”

It did not help that BSA3 had a perennial habit of shaming old hands publicly. What aggravated the relationship was also the program put together by the DBM top honcho setting aside funds for hiring additional staff, differentials, overtime and simply benefits of the rank and file were lumped under the unconstitutional Development Acceleration Program.

Another proof of the inability of the Aquino administration to harness the best of the bureaucracy was when there was a palpable sense of slowdown. “They wanted to do things on their own so we just let them be. Walang respeto sa amin. Ang babata, akala mo sila lang ang may alam at may talino.” No wonder the drag was institution wide. The only bureaucrats who had good things to say were mostly from DPWH. Apparently, Sec. Babes Singson is very well respected. “At the start it was hard but when we saw the Secretary meant well, we closed rank.”

Other departments did not have the same appreciation, such as DOTC, DILG, DSWD and even agencies under OP [Office of the President], among others. It would be interesting to do an in-house survey by department and see who among the agency leaders are appreciated by co-workers in terms of knowledge, skills and attitude.

Transitions are important and can be difficult, “but if government managers develop strategies even before the election results on how best to deal with staff anxiety and a potentially distrustful incoming transition team, they can get through it. One thing to keep in mind: good or bad, transitions are temporary.” But if not handled properly, the bureaucracy will never jell well with the new team and will not be able to embrace the administration’s core culture and agenda. Consequently, we now have silos everywhere. Now, if the culture and agenda are not clearly defined or worst, involves doublespeak, it would be hard to win over the institutional roots.

In the US the presidential transition “extends from the day of the US presidential election (which occurs in November), until the 20th day of January as specified in the Twentieth Amendment. The presidential transition is regulated by The Presidential Transition Act of 1963 (P.L. 88-277), amended by The Presidential Transitions Effectiveness Act of 1998 (P.L. 100-398) and The Presidential Transition Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-293). The Act as amended directs the Administrator of General Services to provide facilities, funding of approximately five million dollars, access to government services, and support for a transition team, and to provide training and orientation of new government personnel and other procedures to ensure an orderly transition.

In our case, there is none. Even the Blue Book was not well appreciated by BSA3 and his chest thumping team.

One of the heralded objectives of BSA3 is to “curb corruption and streamline a cumbersome and graft-ridden bureaucracy, to put resources to where they will provide the clearest results, and to untangle a complicated regulatory environment.” Lumping all of the bureaucracy as the problem and distorting processes and procedures to gain advantages has led to uninspired bureaucrats, waiting for the end to come so that meritocracy and technocracy can again see through the thick black clouds.

As has often been said, “lead and inspire people. Don’t try to manage and manipulate people. Inventories can be managed but people must be lead.” The countdown continues.

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2 Comments

  1. The problem is that the president could not even manage inventories, much less be a leader the bureaucracy needs to function t the basic level. not even qualified to be a manager.