But this (extended passage) caught my funny bone:
. . .The priorities of a bureaucracy -- not that bullshit you see in its mission statement, which is for public consumption, bait for the rubes -- are very similar to the biological imperatives of living organism. In order of priority, the biological imperatives of the Bureaucratic Collective Life Form are as follows:Possibly a bit overstated, but it certainly has a grain of truth. The way I see it, there are two levels at an organization like the VA that actually "feel" the mission. The very bottom, the nurses and doctors who actually deliver the care, and the ultimate boss, and a few of his/her henchpersons like poor Shinseki and a few aides, who have to answer to the Preznit, or get dragged before a congressional committee.
1. Protect our phony-baloney jobs.
All organisms' highest priority is survival. And fold into this other self-interested survival-like goals: raises, comforts.
There's an important sub-priority here:
1. a. Protect the Phony-Baloney Jobs of Our Fellow Government Workers.
This is crucial. The more the worst government worker can get away with without losing his job, the more the average government worker can get away with without losing his job.
All guilds and unions are devoted to protecting the jobs of their worst performing members.
All bureaucrats have a secret guild interest in permitting the worst, laziest, most useless, most misbehaving government workers to keep their jobs (so long as allowing them to keep their jobs does not threaten other jobs -- that is, so long as the bad bureaucrat is not so notoriously awful that he jeopardizes all other Phony Baloney jobs by remaining on the payroll).
In addition, once someone loses their Phony Baloney job at the government, they may begin ratting on those in the bureaucracy also doing their Phony Baloney jobs very poorly; every fired government worker is thus a potential Snitch Threat to other government workers.
For that reason, bureaucrats will work hard to keep other bureaucrats on the payroll, ensuring their continued loyalty to the Guild of Phony Baloney Jobs.
Government workers prioritize imperative 1 and 1.a. to the highest degree possible while still observing imperative 2...
2. Do as little work as possible.
Note that here I'm not actually attacking the bureaucracy for being lazy-- most organisms are hard-coded to do as little work as possible. They store up energy for the coming time they'll have to face off against a brontosaurus or somethin'. "Doing as little work as possible" can also be called, more charitably, a strong impulse towards efficient allocation of the precious resource of stored energy in the form of fat.
But the point is, left to its own devices, any bureaucracy will, of course, do as little as possible while still achieving its most important priority, Protecting Our Phony Baloney Jobs.
Meanwhile, they also have an imperative to increase the scope and grandeur of the jobs they're doing as poorly as possible:
3. Expand turf, power, and responsibilities.
Note that this conflicts directly with Priority 2, Doing as Little Work as Possible. You would think that someone who wants to Do As Little Work As Possible would shy away from taking on greater power and responsibility. But they don't.
Higher organisms, while lazy, are also keenly egotistical, and farm social status based on how many other organisms they dominate and boss around every day.
If you boss no one around, you're a peon; if you boss a couple of people around, you're a low-level manager; if you boss a bunch of people around, you're a mid-level manager; and if you boss a real mess of people around, you're a genuine Boss.
Government bureaucracies are warped on this score due to the excessive nature of modern governmental power: While a peon at, say, Domino's pizza cannot expand his social status much while he's still a peon -- there's no one at Domino's he can boss around, as he's low-man on the totem pole -- a government peon can boss people around. Namely, ordinary citizens and corporations.
Due to the inherent nature of the modern, dysfunctional political system, in which The Government has power over everything, people who can't rise from the level of peon in the bureaucratic system can nevertheless boss the hell out of people outside the bureaucratic system.
And they do. Witness the IRS scandal. . .
The great mass of people in the middle, who answer to those above them, and boss the people below them aren't really invested in the mission, and who respond much as Ace outlines above. They exist to "support" the people at the bottom, but in reality, and especially in government, they exist, to the extent that they do anything at all, to "regulate" the people at the bottom. Rules continually get elaborated to prevent "irregularities" and outdated rules are never reviewed and revoked. Departments vie for control of those at the bottom, the reward being an expansion of their own power, and hence their status and pay.
Left to themselves and given infinite resources, I'm sure that private business would also develop similar sclerosis, because people are people. And I'm sure larger ones do, to some extent. But the pressure of competition, and the drive for profit acts as a check on those tendencies.