[Topic 02] Formal Structure: The Concept of Bureaucracy

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Formal Structure: The Concept of Bureaucracy

Mikhail Josef N. Gomez
2004 - 36036

Bureaucracy based on Max Weber’s works puts great emphasis with the creation of an extensive organization that is structured in such a way that it becomes an impersonal organization which is “dehumanized,” eliminating personal feelings, so that in turn it will influence the lives and fate of every citizen in the Philippine nation.

Bureaucracy is a concept of government and its institutions as an organizational structure characterized by regularized procedure, division of responsibility, hierarchy, and impersonal relationships. It is the reply to the needs required by bigger and complex formal organization since an extensive organization will need a hierarchy to harmonize the activities of its members. Bureaucracy offers a hierarchical power structure which is supposed to work along the lines of definite rules and procedures.

Government is separated into clusters with detailed undertakings that are accountable for a particular area in our society. A form of hierarchy guarantees that an undersecretary of a certain department answers to the secretary of his respective department. In turn, that secretary reports to the president of the country whenever conditions require it. This set-up functions as an insurance wherein anything that flows through the lines of communication can be tracked from whom it came from. This is rather better instead of implicating a whole department to be the cause of fiasco when in fact a single official is to be blamed.

The Philippine bureaucracy takes up a hefty part in the management of the government, the national government to the Local Government Units (LGUs). More often than not, corruption is a great concern for the citizens and for the government itself where a handful of individuals and external stakeholders have made fortunes out of the power that the bureaucracy offers in the form of positions within the hierarchy. There are rules and regulations within the confines of the hierarchy that make the organization… umm… organized. However, the rules that create an organized government are ultimately ignored or, in more subtle ways, circumvented and manipulated to favor corrupt bureaucrats. In this manner, the bureaucrats I refer to can range from the lowest employees to the highest official of the hierarchy.

Another fact that continues to pervade through our bureaucracy is the loose sense of impersonality that exist between government officials and external interests. Genuine impersonality should be acknowledged and be taken into great consideration by officials so as to avoid unnecessary interference and influence that may affect the already fragile integrity of Philippine bureaucracy. Apparent values in the Filipino culture such as the padrino (close friend, relative, or patron) system, where close relationships to persons in higher authority are needed to gain “advantages” and benefit from their power and influence, leaving a slim chance for impersonality to take effect in the government. That just takes out the “dehumanized” factor I mentioned earlier.

Max Weber identified the features of the bureaucracy and these all should be present in the government. These traits are: division of labor, hierarchy, regulation, impersonality, record keeping, administrative staff, and career structure. However, these qualities are sometimes ominously missing, in one way or another, in Philippine bureaucracy. Within the Philippine context, there are perennial doubts and negative undertones when bureaucracy is put into the light. There are many anomalies that occur haphazardly within the confines of the bureaucracy and to mention some such as red tape, lost files, dubious statements of accounts, and the lack of sense of urgency in the part of bureaucrats whenever providing public service. What seems ironic is the fact that the bureaucracy was created so it might grant the greatest means of efficiency and, yet, what the Philippines has is a bureaucracy that is clearly inefficient – this matter isn’t just perception anymore, it is now a fact.

This should have been mentioned earlier, the administrative staff of a bureaucratic institution is designated to be managers of their respective organizations so that their department or agency can deliver basic public service to the people as efficiently as possible without a hint of crookedness. But if there are administrators who, implicitly or explicitly, prove to be corrupt then, unsurprisingly, the whole organization may fall to the temptations of corruption. Along with corruption, competition in the workplace cannot be avoided because there will always be characters who will become too competitive and in the process try to drag other employees down. This over competitiveness amongst people in the bureaucracy can prove to be more of a liability rather than a boon for the organization, reduction of friction among employees should be pursued for them to do their jobs without hassle and trouble. Infighting and internal instability will only create an atmosphere of inefficiency and lead to inefficient delivery of public service to the citizens of the state.

Records of files here in the Philippines have vastly improved from the antiquated means of producing files written from the old reliable method of using a typewriter. It may have been very reliable but it gave government employees a hard time due to the arduous task of manually producing files. Now, with the advent of the computer age it is now possible to type and print files faster and efficiently with the aid of a computer. Back with the glory days of the typewriter it was very easy to produce falsified or manipulated documents which can be used in illegal activities but now, with everything getting hi-tech, it is more likely that documents that are computerized will be harder to alter since if ever an anomaly is identified then with one click of a button data can be retrieved from the databases of the government and, thus, be easily compared with the suspected files. Although this still does not guarantee that the system is hundred percent fool-proof. Nevertheless, there are still government institutions which use typewriters as their mode of producing files. It goes without saying that newer technology comes with a high price tag, especially if the nation is a third-world country.

Next is career structure wherein government employees are expected to await a career with their organization. Promotions or appointments of employees and officials are based on seniority and merit and no factor of any favoritism should be entertained by the officials who decide promotions and appointments. Whether we deny it or not, officials often get recommended to a high position in an organization due to their friendships with other powerful government or business persons. This trend is all too prevalent that it has become a trademark of traditional bureaucrats who have stayed within the organization for so long and sometimes it is not because of their good leadership or management skills but because of their connections.

According to Max Weber, efficiency should be the greatest goal of the people within an organization. Their job is to provide quality service to the citizens of the country and not slacking off in some stinking office, waiting until their rear-end and feet grow roots and cling to the floor like some blood-sucking leeches. Bureaucracy in the Philippines is not a picture of perfection and, with the rate things are going, everything else seems all too gloomy. With people ransacking the funds of the nation and hierarchies filled with power-hungry officials, much has to be done with the bureaucracy if things are to be straightened out. In our country where almost everything becomes very impersonal and entities that start off as formal structures, in the long run, become informal with some, if not the majority, of government officials making their organizations and positions as tools for own personal gain of wealth and power.


Bautista, Victoria A. Introduction to Public Administration in the Philippines: A Reader. 2nd ed.
Stillman, Richard. Public Administration: Concepts and Cases. Boston : Houghton Mifflin, c2000.

Formal Structure: The Concept of Bureaucracy

Charlon Reinier O. Valencia

For months now, the Professional Regulations Commissions or PRC has been a staple of media coverage. It has become a regular news topic for the various news programs around. The PRC has become a media darling for all the wrong reasons some might say. The PRC has been receiving a tumultuous amount of unwanted exposure from the media no thanks to the recent 2006 Nursing Board Exam Leakage. News of the widespread cheating performed during the recent board exam has indeed shocked the whole nation. Yet I wonder if the shock was brought about by the idea of cheating occurring in the exam or because of the astounding idea of the cheating being discovered. It is not as if news of a cheating fiasco was a first in our history. A mere 30 seconds is all one person needs to specify the most recent cheating hullabaloo he or she remembers. I know the phrase “hello Garci” still rings a bell to anyone who hears that dreaded phrase. The sad fact of the matter is that we have grown accustomed to the idea of cheating, lying and corruption so much so that one seems to not mind anymore. Personally, I think the 2006 Nursing Leak served as a grand confirmation of the grandiose capabilities we possess in terms of cheating.

“Beware of Fixers” served as a dire warning to the many people transacting business in PRC. It was a signage that keeps flashing in the screen of the television set whenever I catch a glimpse of a news coverage regarding the Nursing Leakage. It was an innocent signboard found within the premises of the PRC’s office; a friendly reminder that the PRC is not one that tolerates fixers and it was possibly It was, in every way, a scornful admittance of the harsh reality that grapples the said office; something that is, of course, not exclusive to them. In fact, fixers have become greatly associated with our public offices. Despite efforts to eliminate these scumbags, truth be told, we ourselves tolerate their behavior. The slow paced process that has become associated to some of the public offices that serve us has become too entrenched into our minds that we resort to easier alternatives. I mean, who in the right frame of mind would want to sweat it out for one whole day for an application for a who-knows-what permit without the assurance of finishing the ordeal that day when you could easily slide a few bucks to someone to do it for you, and faster at that? Its wrong but everyone’s doing it right? At the end of the day, we could only blame ourselves for even entertaining the idea.

We have for the longest time become greatly accustomed to the idea of a very corrupt system of public offices to the extent that we passively accept such behavior. This phenomenon is the reality that grips our bureaucratic system. It is indeed a far stretch from what a bureaucracy should be, at least what the theories try to tell us. We can say that what we have right now is a bureaucratic system with a Filipino twist, a very negative twist but a twist nonetheless. The bureaucratic system that our society portrays is indeed a very negative one, yet it also portrays an informal side of bureaucracy that is quite persistent to every bureaucracy yet is being neglected by the theoretical side of bureaucracy; that of the informality brought by humans. The reason why our bureaucratic system is how it is has something to do with how we are culturally.

The immense negative perceptions surrounding our own bureaucratic system have very much overshadowed the definition of what a bureaucracy should be ideally. By going back to the definitions of what a bureaucracy is, we can indirectly view the various contrasts our own bureaucracy has in relation to the ideal-type bureaucracy. After all, the best way to correct our mistakes is to be aware of what our mistakes are in the first place.

The term bureaucracy has been mentioned quite a few times already yet I haven’t even mentioned what it means. According to Richard Stillman “The term in serious administrative literature denotes the general, formal structural elements of a type of human organization, particularly a governmental organization.” Putting it in a more simple way, the term bureaucracy refers to the institution’s structure of organization when it comes to performing its tasks. Defining a term is quite difficult for anyone since after all, anyone could ascribe his or her own definition to anything. The same goes for bureaucracy; one can associate it with negative perceptions such as corruption, inefficiency or the like. On the other hand, one can also stick to the conventional description of what a bureaucracy is, at least the ideal-type of bureaucracy. The ideas regarding the concepts of what a bureaucracy is and should be was instigated by a German social scientist by the name of Max Weber.

Max Weber’s works on the subject of bureaucracy is basically responsible for the formation of the ideals about the said subject. He was the one who gave the concise descriptions of what a bureaucracy should be. But before anything else, Weber of course explained why the idea of bureaucracy sprouted in the first place. Weber explained “ …modern bureaucracy in the Western world arose during the Middle Ages when royal domains grew and required bodies of officials to oversee them.” Putting it more simply, one could assume that as the tasks needed to be done or the services to be provided grew in quantity, concentrating the duty of performing these tasks to a single office or an individual was becoming impractical. Thus the need to divide the job arose. In the words of Richard Stillman, “Bureaucracy grew because society needed to do things – to build roads, to educate students, to collect taxes, to fight battles, and to dispense justice. Work was divided and specialized to achieve the goals of a society.” Taking the Philippines for example, it would be very impractical and inefficient if the task of guarding the environment, looking after trade and industry, providing higher education and constructing roads were all assigned to a single “super department”. Having a Department of Everything would do us no good. Instead we have the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Commission on Higher Education and the Department of Public Works and Highways to provide us with the services we need.

Max Weber, like what was mentioned earlier, created and formulated the characteristics of an ideal-type bureaucracy; descriptions that became the foundation for the formation of what is known today as a bureaucratic system. According to Max Weber, a bureaucracy is a structure defined by specialized division of labor, a hierarchy of order and authority and a set of impersonal rules. As we would see later on, one could sense the idea of bureaucracy as a system that is full of competency, a sort of working machine that is irrelevant to human feelings.

Specialized division of labor was the first characteristic given by Weber to the bureaucracy. For Weber, an ideal-type bureaucracy means that tasks are distributed to individuals knowledgeable of whatever task that might be and that certain individual’s job is to perform that task, nothing more nothing less. Dividing labor and limiting them into doing that specific duty are creating an aura of competence. By doing so, the bureaucracy is assured of performing its duty properly and at a much better pace. Your position defines the nature of your work. Thus a typist should concentrate on typing and not worry about how much sugar would he or she be putting in the boss’ coffee since that is not his or her job.

A hierarchy of order and authority basically means that there is a “firmly ordered system of super- and subordination in which there is a supervision of the lower offices by the higher offices.” This setup is pretty common nowadays since such a hierarchy could be found anywhere, even at your local school organization. The bureaucratic system calls for a system of subordination in which there would be enough supervision by the different offices as to preserve the competency of their works.

A set of impersonal rules governs a bureaucracy. I think Richard Stillman states it more clearly. “In principle, the executive office is separated from the household, business from private correspondence and business assets from private fortunes.” The bureaucratic system holds little room for personal relations especially in dealing with its mandated tasks. What makes a bureaucracy unique is its considerations in hiring people and promoting them in such a way that competence and efficiency remains. A bureaucrat is hired to perform a specified task based on his merit and competency in the field he or she wishes to be in. In the same manner, a bureaucrat is promoted to a higher position based on his merit as a worker and his skill as a bureaucrat. More often than not, an examination determines one’s competency. Thus, the bureaucratic system bears no consideration on your connections as an individual, or your relations with other bureaucrats. You are hired based on what you know and based on what you can do. A bureaucrat is also characterized by his assurance of tenure. In a bureaucratic system, one is assured of his tenure for life and that his or her dismissal could never be caused by a personal grudge against his or her superior. Instead, one could be dismissed if he or she is not performing the way he or she is supposed to perform. More importantly, Weber stated that holding office should never be seen as something to be exploited or as a source of personal gains. Rather, the acceptance of a job within the bureaucratic system is an acceptance of an obligation to the office.

Taking a glimpse of the ideal-type bureaucracy of Max Weber, we realize that it is how he defined it, ideal. Like many existing bureaucracies, such is not always the case. The bureaucracy of Max Weber seemed to disregard the existence and importance of many elements such as human relations, which is proven to be an important factor in determining work efficiency. The reality of Philippine Bureaucracy is that, despite its adherence to the tenets of Weberian bureaucracy, one cannot deny that, indeed, ours is influenced by our cultural norms. Customs such as strong kinship ties, corruption, regionalism and the ever-present patronage system greatly influences the system, sometimes to the point of disregarding the principle of hiring based on merit and competence. These “societal ills” have plagued us for the longest time. It wouldn’t hurt if we strive to reach the ideal-type bureaucracy good ol’ Weber taught us. It definitely wouldn’t hurt to see the day when we see our public offices free from the “Beware of Fixers” signs.