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Vol. 21, No. 3, 2022
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John Conlin is an expert in organizational design and change. He is the founder and President of E.I.C. Enterprises. He has been published in American Greatness (where this article originally appeared), The Federalist, The Daily Caller, American Thinker, Houston Chronicle, Denver Post and Public Square Magazine among others.

Over the past few years, many Americans have been astonished as they watched foundational organizations of the federal government—FBI, CIA, NSA, IRS, the Justice Department, all military branches, and now the Centers for Disease Control—prove to be rotten at the top and perhaps to the core.

People’s experience with their local DMV and other state and local government agencies had already lowered the expectations of most, but people still believed generally that some parts of the federal government remained a cut-above. This has repeatedly been proven to not be the case.

Unfortunately, this is not really surprising if you understand how an organizational entity behaves over time.

First, just like a regular corporation these organizations are artificial entities created by law. They do not exist as real, physical “things.” They are created by law and composed only of the ever-changing people who staff them. “They” don’t believe or do anything because “they” don’t really exist.

Second, in many ways the organizations themselves actually live. They behave much like true biological lifeforms. Once created, they fight to remain alive. They strive for additional resources and attempt to grow—always.

Third, organizations of all types evolve. There is an unstoppable flow and movement to all of these entities—again, just like a true lifeform. This evolution can be in a “good” direction or a “bad” direction. It depends what forces are acting on them and, of course, good or bad depends on one’s perspective. Never forget, good for the organization does not necessarily equate to good for the users or customers or even the employees of the organization.

Poorly run organizations can, and do, drive what I call a de-evolution. Good employees—and I’m not talking about moral issues, just the factors that make up a good, as in effective, employee—can always find another job. Since such employees generally don’t have to put up with much BS, they can and will leave—or they don’t take the job offer in the first place.

Ultimately, this leaves the organization staffed with those who either can’t find a job anywhere else or those who are not motivated enough to try and leave to find a better situation.

Either way, it is difficult to build a strong, resourceful, and dynamic organization solely with these types of employees. Sadly, governments at all levels are filled with such people. And over time they get promoted and advanced until they fill the organization, top-to-bottom.

Fourth, bosses fill the organization with people like themselves. If the boss likes to play grab-ass with the administrative staff, he certainly won’t surround himself with people who find such behavior unacceptable. If she lies and cheats, she won’t surround herself with more ethical people.

Thus, poor bosses fill the organization with poor—but similar—managers. Managers follow the same rules regarding hiring those who report to them. And on and on it goes. This is how rot spreads through the top of an organization—and ultimately throughout the entire organization.

For-profit organizations experience these same basic forces but they are at least tempered by the need to make money and be profitable. In the end, the marketplace itself acts to correct many of these destructive behaviors. It is far from perfect—as anyone who has ever held a job can attest—but it does work.

Governmental entities face no such sculpting force. There is no such marketplace to which they must answer. Poor managers aren’t forced out because of lack of profitability or lack of customer awareness. They aren’t forced out. Period.

They fester, grow, are promoted, and fill their organizations with other people like themselves. It is the nature of the beast. If an individual has a serious problem with this culture he or she generally leaves or adapts.

Thus, you almost never see a culture of greatness in any level of government—especially long-standing government. In those rare cases where it exists—generally driven by force of will by a single individual or two—it will only flicker for a while before the de-evolution regains control.

For the first 125 years or so, the United States had small, limited governments at the federal and state levels. But this changed dramatically with the start of the Progressive Era at the beginning of the 1900s. Since then, governments have exploded in size, power, and reach into individual lives.

And sadly, for the last 100 years or so the evolutionary processes I described above have been flowing along—unmoored from any sculpting forces driven by market or customer demands. The rot is pervasive and it is not going to magically heal itself.

Since there is ultimately little one can do about the evolutionary processes that drive these nonprofit organizations we call government, the only rational response is to severely limit their scope and power. This was the genius of the founders’ intentions with the Constitution.

Instead, we have ignored that Constitution and allowed government rot to spread throughout our culture. It is so pervasive and powerful it is even driving the de-evolution of the entire country. This cannot be allowed to stand. As free people we do not have to allow this to continue.

The first step in putting an end to this is to educate our fellow citizens and most importantly, children, in these realities. This isn’t a political position or philosophy; it is a physical reality no more malleable than the laws of gravity. We ignore them at our own peril.










Arts & Opinion, a bi-monthly, is archived in the Library and Archives Canada.
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