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Backstage in a Bureaucracy

Politics and Public Service

Susan M. Chandler and Richard C. Pratt

Publication Year: 2011

Backstage in a Bureaucracy provides a first-hand day-to-day look at running a large bureaucracy. Susan Chandler candidly shares her experiences while serving as director of the Hawai‘i State Department of Human Services for eight years, while Dick Pratt, a public administration professor and advisor to numerous public and private organizations here and abroad, offers his thoughts on what these experiences tell us about the inner workings of government agencies. Their stories—some sad, some funny, but all educational—reveal the challenges and rewards of public service.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii

List of Abbreviations

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pp. ix

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Chapter 1 Introduction

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pp. 1-8

The importance of state-level administration is growing in the field of public administration for several reasons. As decentralization of the national government moves to the states, the task of the states to accept, discharge, implement, evaluate, and fund depends heavily on each state’s administrative capacities ...

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Chapter 2 What Kind of Person Should Be in These Jobs?

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pp. 9-10

The challenges of heading a government agency are increased by the reality that the vast majority of the people appointed are not prepared by education or experience for many of their new responsibilities. This is a function not only of the difficulty and diversity of a public agency’s responsibilities, but also the intricacies of the selection process and the willingness of people to serve. Under the best of circumstances ...

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Chapter 3 Organizational Setting

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pp. 11-12

In Hawai‘i, the director of DHS oversees an agency that historically has operated all state welfare programs, the food stamp program, public housing, child and adult protection services, vocational rehabilitation, and health insurance programs for the poor. Its mandate is to offer assistance to all people in the state who are unable to provide for themselves. ...

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Chapter 4 In the Beginning

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pp. 13-24

Most people may believe that appointment to a high-level government office is a reward for loyal service to the party or the winning candidate. This could be true, but it is unquestionable that the belief political hacks are running our public agencies does nothing to enhance our view of either the agencies or the people in them. Susan Chandler’s selection as director and cabinet member, though perhaps unusual and refreshing, raises questions ...

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Chapter 5 Getting to Know the Agency and Its Culture; or, Can Anyone Tell Me What’s Going On?

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pp. 25-34

No one from the outside can truly understand the day-to-day life and workings of an organization. There is of course the formal organizational chart, which Chandler notes may be a kind of fantasy but also is helpful as a starting point. The chart indicates who has authority—that is, formal power and formal responsibility at each level of the organization. These lines of authority are especially important in public organizations ...

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Chapter 6 If Only the Boss Really Had Power; or, It’s Not So Lonely at the Top

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pp. 35-36

One of the reasons we want to move up the organizational ladder is that we can finally be in a position to decide important issues. No more having to do what the boss says or looking for opportunities to smuggle in a thought. Even if we are aware that we don’t always do what our boss says, we think that if we get to the pinnacle of the organization, then we will be in a position to do good work. That is, of course, true and, disconcertingly, not true. ...

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Chapter 7 Finding the Right Help; or, with a Little Help from My Friends

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pp. 37-41

Chandler’s job was made easier and she made more successful because she was able to hire an excellent private secretary. That tells us how important support positions are. It also tells us that, in this sense, she may have gotten lucky. Secretarial positions were exempt (not civil service), so technically they were open to anyone, regardless of previous employment, experience, or qualifications. ...

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Chapter 8 Speaking in Different Tongues; or, When Cultures Meet

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pp. 42-47

There are at least two reasons to consult with staff and involve them in deliberations about what should or should not be done. The first is that we gain from their knowledge and insight. The individuals who actually deliver the programs on a daily basis understand what is and isn’t working, and often know what might be done to improve things. The other reason is that their being included and allowed to participate will make them more likely to accept what is decided ...

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Chapter 9 The DHS Storybook; or, Hunting and Gathering

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pp. 48-51

What is it that the heads of large public departments must know, and what shouldn’t they have to know? Or, as Chandler points out, from the staff’s point of view what are they better off not knowing? ...

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Chapter 10 Meeting the Legislature; or, Honoring the Honorables

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pp. 52-61

The Hawai‘i legislative session is only about four months long, but it still has a huge impact on the work rhythms and loads of executive agencies. For many agencies, it can seem like everything else is put on hold during the mobilization prior to and during the session. This is even more the case if hotbutton issues bring legislators to the agency’s doorstep. ...

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Chapter 11 Community Advocates; or, It Is So Much Easier to Advocate Than Administrate

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pp. 62-65

Issues that look one way to administrative agencies with the responsibility for certain public mandates can look another way to community groups that see these issues as relevant to themselves. In many ways, these relations are like those between landlords and tenants. Tension and conflict are almost inevitable because their perspectives and interests are so different. ...

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Chapter 12 The Governor: or, The Guy Who Holds the Purse Strings

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pp. 66-69

Chandler begins here by observing that the Hawai‘i governor has a lot of power. This is true in comparison to other states. It is also the case that the Hawai‘i governor’s influence over the budget is a major source of that power. At the same time, it is also true that in many ways the governor has little power. Chandler illustrates that here with the problem of downsizing. It is very difficult and politically costly ...

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Chapter 13 The Cabinet; or, When Collaboration Seems Like…Getting Clobbered

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pp. 70-77

Governor’s cabinets are made up of individuals, each successful in his or her own right, who find themselves asked to be both team members and high-stakes competitors. They are members of a team whose purpose is to advance the governor’s agenda. They are also competitors who want to promote and protect the interests of their departments, as well as their own political and professional opportunities. ...

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Chapter 14 The Auditor; or, Uh-Oh, Here She Comes Again!

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pp. 78-80

The Office of the Legislative Auditor was established to help the legislature with its responsibility to oversee the work of the administrative agencies. Although individual legislators can tell the auditor what they would like examined, the work of the agency is considered to be independent of the legislature. The maintenance of this balance between serving the needs of the legislature and remaining independent and nonpartisan ...

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Chapter 15 The Press; or, the Unkindest Cut of All…

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pp. 81-83

The relationship between government agencies and the media is often difficult. One of Chandler’s proposals is to better equip public officials for their encounters with the media by giving them training. The case of the Hawai‘i van-cam fiasco, which she mentions, is a good example of when such training may have been beneficial to the public. Although it is true that part of the problem was the media’s need to sensationalize the issue ...

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Chapter 16 The Federal Presence; or, Will This Be Good for Us?

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pp. 84-86

It is well known that public officials in Hawai‘i, like their counterparts in other states, often have mixed feelings about the role played by federal agencies. Sometimes, such as in areas of public corruption, it brings the authority, resources, and motivation to do things the local officials cannot. Other times, as with unfunded mandates in education, health, or welfare, it can be seen as presenting problems. ...

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Chapter 17 Innovation and Change; Can Anyone Do This?

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pp. 87-96

We now look at innovation and change. The first section reflects on changes that worked and others that didn’t. Those that had the sustained support of external players were successful. The internal efforts were a different story. Chandler concludes that no matter how much energy was devoted to the cause, her efforts to change the basic structure just didn’t succeed. Here we can feel her frustration ...

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Chapter 18 Procuring Services; or, Hey, Didn’t We Contract That Out?

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pp. 97-104

Contrary to most people’s perceptions, a huge portion of public services is provided by for-profit or nonprofit organizations. The situation in which another entity provides the services for which a public agency remains responsible is referred to as indirect government. In this section Chandler reflects on the challenges that come with the simplest form of indirect government: privatization, or giving to the private sector responsibilities that once belonged to the public sector. ...

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Chapter 19 Lessons Learned

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pp. 105-110

What does all of this add up to? In this section we pull together what seem to us to be important lessons from the reflections that make up this primer on organizational bureaucracy. We then share some thoughts on the prospects for improving public organizations. ...

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Chapter 20 Final Thoughts

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pp. 111-117

Many Americans express frustration, and sometimes anger, with public organizations. In the extreme this comes out as, “Bureaucracies! Who needs them? We’d be better off without!” To wrap up this inside look at a public bureaucracy we share our thoughts about these frustrations. We begin with questions that echo the unhappiness ...


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pp. 119


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pp. 121-123

E-ISBN-13: 9780824860936
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824835019

Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Hawaii -- Social policy.
  • Hawaii -- Politics and government -- 1959-.
  • Hawaii. Dept. of Human Services -- Management.
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