Memoirs of a bureaucrat
In a prior life (1982-92) I was a bureaucrat, a GS-14 at Interior Dept HQ in DC. Good pay, good benefits, cast-iron job security. I thought I'd let you (we) taxpayers know what the bureaucracy is like.
To a bureaucrat there is right, wrong, and "our position." The last trumps anything, including reality. It really does resemble mental illness at certain levels. I once reported to the client agency what had happened in court ... we argued this, they argued that, the judge made this ruling. My boss's boss became terrified ... I'd told them what had happened, without making sure that was "our position." I asked how one can have a "position" about hard facts and he gave me a blank stare, then went back to worrying.
At one point the administrative types, bean counters, hit upon a bureaucrat's dream -- make yourselves look good, while someone else does the work. Their plan was to have a case briefing book, where every litigation matter, no matter how complex, was to be distilled to one page, with 5-6 mandatory segments. No one knew how many cases interior had going -- they guessed several hundred. It turned out to be over 7,000. The briefing book became a set of big 3 ring binders, maybe 3 feet of paper, renewed once a month. When the field offices sent theirs in (via 300 baud modem, the only type then available) it tied up the system for two days. So they ordered field offices to send them in via 5.25" floppy disks and overnight mail. Then we in HQ had to edit them and make sure they were perfect. But the field offices never got our changes, so everything had to be re-edited next month. Then they decided that this didn't highlight changes in all that paperwork. So each month's changed parts were to be in bold.
Down at the bottom of each page was "For further information contact (name of atty handling, and phone). Secretary Lujan actually read his copy, and sometimes found something interesting and... called the staff atty handling it to chat. The mid level bureaucrats became terrified. He was getting the real scoop from the attorney, not "the office position.: He wouldn't stop it. So we got written orders, no kidding that if we were called by the Secretary we were to refuse to discuss a case and tell him to go through channels. (We were under the Solicitor, who'd been personal attorney to Geo. Bush I, and so the Secretary couldn't fire him).
When people wrote in to the Secretary, he never saw it. The mail room skimmed everything off and sent it to the office they thought handled it. The office (i.e., if you were complaining, the people you complained about) then wrote a letter for the Secretary and it went up the chain of command. In every case I can recall, he signed it -- being quite busy, and knowing only that everyone below him, who knew more of it than he did, said this was what happened.
You were in little risk of getting dinged for giving stupid advice, but were always dinged if there was a typo. If you had typos in more than 10% of documents, it cost you at evaluation. The typists were making typos constantly, but you were held accountable. You'd make corrections, and they'd make new typos. Many attorneys read their documents with a ruler on them, carefully going down one line at a time and concentrating on each word. Try that with a 20-30 litigation report... one typo and you'll be dinged. It took 2-3 days to get a one page document together on average (only late in my time did individual attys have their own computers and word processors. I once had an emergency matter bounced back because on page two I had said "indian tribe" when protocol was "indian tribe." Another document get bounced back because it had one space between the period ending one sentence and the first letter of the next and the Govt Style Manual said use two spaces. Then when you were done the document was set up in a package (including seven copies for various files. If you were smart you made one for yourself, since nobody could ever find documents in those files. If anyone above you made a change or caught a typo, start the process again, make seven more copies....
We worked as hard as anyone else, no laziness there. But the bureaucracy was such that we were lucky to get done in a week what one energetic person could do in a day.
Amusing tale: one day an electrical socket burst into flame in the office of the Deputy Director, Fish and Wildlife Service. He ran outside to the newly installed, multi-million dollar fire alarm and threw it. Nothing happened. He grabbed a fire extinquisher. Nothing happened. (He was lucky -- they were pressuried water, not the thing you want to use against an electrical fire). They finally got it out, and had to take crowbars to the window to get it open -- all windows were long ago painted shut, and by intent (if you left one open at night, pigeons flew in and roosted). About two months later we got memos from the administrators telling us to be aware this was National Fire Prevention month ... and ending with a note that they hoped to have the fire alarm system repaired soon. I suspect any private office that knowingly had a nonfunctioning fire alarm system for two months would have been shut down.