This is how things work in the government

From an article in today’s Washington Free Beacon, “Clinton Aide Worked on UAE Project While at State Department,” we see an amusing account of government bureaucracy in action.  (We don’t feel the need to add to the well-covered, much more important substance of the article—the obvious conflicts of interest and corruption in Hillary Clinton’s State Department.)

We refer to the process in the department for “vetting” (under heavens-knows-what-criteria) paid speeches given by then-Secretary Clinton’s husband:  “On February 17, 2009, Thessin sent a memo to Bill Clinton’s scheduler, recommending ‘To expedite these [conflict of interest assessment] requests in the future, you may wish to forward the request directly to me, with a copy to Waldo (Chip) Brooks, my Senior Ethics counsel … his deputy, Violanda Botet … and Cheryl Mills.'”  (Mills was Secretary Clinton’s chief of staff.)

So apparently there was a process by which James Thessin, the deputy legal advisor at State, had to approve, or at least comment on, such outside engagements.  In any normal organization, the principal’s representative would send a request to the person responsible for taking the action.  But here, Thessin is requesting copies to “his” subordinate (senior ethics counsel to the deputy legal advisor?) as well as his subordinate’s subordinate (deputy senior ethics counsel to the deputy legal advisor?).  (Apparently the legal advisor himself is out of the loop, though we can presume that, as a presidential appointee and the person ultimately accountable, that individual would have to sign off on the deputy legal advisor’s work.)

It strikes us as odd to copy three levels of hierarchy on a request.  Who is ultimately responsible?  In our work in the public and private sectors, it has struck us that this paperwork-volleying is much more the norm in the public sector, where naturally anyone who has a job has a deputy, and it’s unclear who is actually responsible for what.  It’s unclear how work actually gets performed and delegated and with what instructions.  Copy my deputy and my deputy’s deputy, since they’re eventually going to get assigned it anyway and Copy my boss and my boss’s boss so they can track it (or not) without having to rely on progress reports from me are classic bureaucratic tactics that serve quite well to obscure actual responsibilities, inflate the manager’s importance, add exponentially more e-mails to the BlackBerry queue, tee up excuses for delays, and spend extra resources to complete a task.

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