“Mission Orders” and Bureaucratic Autonomy
Published on: August 8, 2013
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  • John Burke

    Good post

  • Faisal Khan

    Excellent Stuff. Anxiously waiting Vol. 2 of The Origins of Political Order

  • Al

    So I know you talked about it in the last paragraph, but what to do about the problem about those *outside of the agency* setting its goals (regulatory capture)? It seems to me that no reassessment of bureaucratic autonomy really matters if the guy at the very top is forced to give bad “mission orders” or those that are outside of the scope of his organization, period.

  • Fantastic. Thanks for these posts.

  • Anthony

    Example of mission orders and bureaucratic autonomy inside military may not scale geerally to both public and private organizations given variegated nature od said organizations. That is, military organization by definition has mission function and agent delegation a priori; equally, as both “Principled Agents and Good Government, Bad Government” intimate, implementation in principal/agent framework must be asymmetrical as corollary to autonomy – and your goal is implementation yes.

  • qet

    If I understand the commenter Anthony correctly, I agree with his main point. I don’t think the military model (which as presented here is entirely a combat model and not a civil affairs model) is appropriate for domestic bureaucratic agencies. First, The combat efficacy goals of the military are wholly antithetical to the people it acts upon, a/k/a the enemy. Domestic bureaucracies pit the state both against and for its citizens and pit some citizens against others. You cannot grant autonomy to lower level actors and expect them not to use it. The more autonomy more individual agents have, the more likely they are going to interfere with our liberty. Just look at the behavior of the increasingly paramilitarized law enforcement agencies, who seem to be operating according to this mission statement principle. Many of us would prefer not to encourage bureaucratic activity by a host of zealous empowered subaltens. Second, military operations eventually end. Either the goal is reached or it isn’t; but there is a goal. Domestic agencies never declare victory and bring the boys home.

  • Anthony

    Formulation is just a bit too neat. Democratic political systems differ in that democracy (elections) does not immediately infer effective principal/agent outcomes; system legitimacy may hinge on other institutional arrangements that reinforce political and economic systems which undergird citizens and voters’ behaviors that mandate agent goals.

  • pashley1411

    Additional problems comparing military and civilian bureaucracies:

    Military bureaucracies, in war time, are faced with the results of their work. Civilian bureaucracies can avoid evaluation for, potentially, forever (headstart).

    The second is that civilian bureaucracies are, in effect, stepping on the free will of the citizen. Who, in their own understandable self-interest, scurry away. Any civilian bureaucracy that tends to centralize, rather than channel, decision making, is so mired in implementation and enforcement costs as to be ineffective.

  • denis fodor

    As usual, Professor Fukuyama has gotten it right .Wisely, too, he has left the nitty-gritty to be handled by others.
    For what the U.S.A cannot avoid doing at long last is to junk its present order of battle and, accordingly. its order

    At the top will no longer stand the JCS but, instead, the Aufträger,or Aufträgerin ( both A).
    A will rate only one star but, for that, have a red stripe on the trousers. A^s function will be, so to speak, to
    bear down from Mount Washington, D.C., the Aufträge of the ruling civilians after chiseling them down as
    concisely as possible and bearing them from aloft to the forces in the field which are thenceforth to be known as Ausführer

    Ausführer responsible for more than 100,000 combatants (including train) will rate 2 stars.Those with less than 100 combatants
    (including tail) will have four stars –the number of stars signifying the relative amount of personal initiative accorded
    the Ausführer by the Aufträger.


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  • the analogy between the civilan and military organizational principles is brilliant. However, as applied to developing countries, which allow multiparty politics, have fractured polities and follow the “largest vote share” model in elecetions, this formulation has a problem. Elected representatives far from being principles are actuals minority agents. Take, India where candidates win elections with barely 25% of the polled votes purely because they have the largest share. They subsequently only represent the 25$ which elected them and the remaining 75% remain unrepresented. Such “principles” act more as “agents” and irresponsible ones at that. Secondly it has become the political practise to blur the line between the legislature and the executive by giving members of the legislature a private “developmental” budget for their constituencies…a sharing of spoils which is acceptable to all parties…but not to citizens. Can such representatives trully be called “principles” or do they illustrate the agent-principle problem.

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