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April 29 , 2011

Bounded Bureaucracy and the Budgetary Process in the United States


Bureaucracies have been criticized from various perspectives and blamed for a variety of failings. Critics have claimed that bureaucracies are too focused on conforming to rules rather than achieving an organization’s core mission. Bureaucracies are said to oppress human freedom because of their orientation toward hierarchical control. Bureaucratic organizations are also said to be unable to deal effectively with public problems that span multiple administrative jurisdictions; they do not reach beyond their own organizational boundaries.

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This book provides solid data on how bureaucracies can expedite information processing and reduce organizational conflicts. Jay Eungha Ryu finds that the functions of bureaucracies are highly dependent upon external political conditions. Whether the executive and legislative branches are dominated by the same party significantly influences the ability of bureaucracies to function effectively.

Ryu notes that the merits of bureaucratic centralization are worth close attention. Numerous attempts, including performance budgeting systems, have been made to improve bureaucratic malfunctions. However, such reform initiatives are doomed to failure, he argues, unless they employ a core feature of bureaucracy itself, centralization. Ryu defines bureaucratic centralization at its best as bounded bureaucracy. If well managed, bounded bureaucracy can substantially improve the rational behavior of organizations and reduce institutional frictions.

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