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Street-Level Bureaucracy

The Dilemmas of the Individual in Public Service

Michael Lipsky

Publication Year: 1983

Street-Level Bureaucracy is an insightful study of how public service workers, in effect, function as policy decision makers, as they wield their considerable discretion in the day-to-day implementation of public programs.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Title, Copyright, Dedication Page

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pp. vii-x

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Preface: Dilemmas of the Individual in Public Services

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pp. xi-xvi

This book is in part a search for the place of the individual in those public services I call street-level bureaucracies. These are the schools, police and welfare departments, lower courts, legal services offices, and other agencies whose workers interact with and have wide discretion over the dispensation...


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pp. xvii-xviii

Part 1. Introduction

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pp. 1-2

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1. The Critical Roles of Street-Level Bureaucrats

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pp. 3-12

Public service workers currently occupy a critical position in American society. Although they are normally regarded as low-level employees, the actions of most public service workers actually constitute the services "delivered" by government. Moreover, when taken together the individual...

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2. Street-Level Bureaucrats as Policy Makers

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pp. 13-26

Street-level bureaucrats make policy in two related respects. They exercise wide discretion in decisions about citizens with whom they interact. Then, when taken in concert, their individual actions add up to agency behavior. The task in this chapter is to demonstrate that the position of street-level bureaucrats regularly permits them to make policy with...

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Part 2. Conditions of Work

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pp. 27-28

Street-level bureaucracies are consistently criticized for their inability to provide responsive and appropriate service. The experience of seeking service through people-processing bureaucracies is perceived by enough people as dehumanizing that the phrase "human services" is often...

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3. The Problem of Resources

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pp. 29-39

Bureaucratic decision making takes place under conditions of limited time and information. Decision makers typically are constrained by the costs of obtaining information relative to their resources, by their capacity to absorb information, and by the unavailability of information.1 However, street-level...

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4. Goals and Performance Measures

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pp. 40-53

Supervision and control provide guidance toward bureaucratic goals. Performance measures offer feedback to adjust the system. The clearer the goals and the better developed the performance measures, the more finely tuned guidance can be. The less clear the goals and the less accurate the feedback...

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5. Relations with Clients

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pp. 54-70

Clients in street-level bureaucracies are nonvoluntary. This point is obvious in coercive public agencies such as police departments, but it also applies when the coercive dimensions of the relationship between the agency and the client are less clear. This is because street-level bureaucracies often...

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6. Advocacy and Alienation in Street-Level Work

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pp. 71-80

To deliver street-level policy through bureaucracy is to embrace a contradiction. On the one hand, service is delivered by people to people, invoking a model of human interaction, caring, and responsibility. On the other hand, service is delivered through a bureaucracy, invoking a model of detachment...

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Part 3. Patterns of Practice

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pp. 81-86

Street-level bureaucrats work with inadequate resources in circumstances where the demand will always increase to meet the supply of services. Thus they can never be free from the implications of significant constraints. Within these constraints they have broad discretion with respect to the...

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7. Rationing Services: Limitation of Access and Demand

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pp. 87-104

Theoretically there is no limit to the demand for free public goods. Agencies that provide public goods must and will devise ways to ration them. To ration goods or services is to establish the level or proportions of their distribution. This may be done by fixing the amount or level of goods and services in...

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8. Rationing Services: Inequality in Administration

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pp. 105-116

Free public goods and services may be rationed by imposing costs and fixing their amount. They may also be rationed by allocating them differentially among classes of claimants. In street-level bureaucracies services are distributed differentially for at least four interconnected reasons...

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9. Controlling Clients and the Work Situation

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pp. 117-139

Every social order depends on the general consent of its members. Even the most coercive of institutions, such as prisons, function only so long as those affected by the institution cooperate in its activities (even if the cooperation is secured ultimately by force). Typically, cooperation is neither actively...

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10. The Client-Processing Mentality

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pp. 140-156

The drill sergeant who insists that soldiers stand tall, keep their eyes straight, and march in precision achieves results without knowing the state of mind, predispositions, or previous military experience of the recruits. He is untroubled by the needs of individuals and is at ease with mass processing...

Part 4. The Future of Street-Level Bureaucracy

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pp. 157-158

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11. The Assault on Human Services: Bureaucratic Control, Accountability, and the Fiscal Crisis

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pp. 159-179

This chapter examines the current application of administrative measures to secure accountability among street-level bureaucrats. I argue that bureaucratic accountability is virtually impossible to achieve among lower-level workers who exercise high degrees of discretion, at least where qualitative...

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12. The Broader Context of Bureaucratic Relations

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pp. 180-191

In considering the potential for change in street-level bureaucracies it would be a mistake to restrict analysis to the coping dilemmas and adaptations of service workers, or the patterns of practice that develop among them. The resolution of contradictory tendencies in street-level bureaucracies cannot...

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13. Support for Human Services: Notes for Reform and Reconstruction

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pp. 192-212

I have argued that the determinants of street-level practice are deeply rooted in the structure of the work. Further, I have pointed out that street-level bureaucracies do not stand alone, but they reflect the character of prevailing organizational relations in the society as a whole. In turn, as a...


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pp. 213-236


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pp. 237-254

E-ISBN-13: 9781610443623
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871545268
Print-ISBN-10: 0871545268

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 1983