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Get the bureaucracy moving

WHENEVER a new administration comes to power, we often see reorganization as its first action. Reorganization is made the reason to weed out the vestiges of the previous administration. Clearly, the new administration would want to put its own people, the so-called workhorses, to be the catalysts of the reforms it plans to pursue. A new administration needs to pump the engines early in order to gain traction so that the people feel the change happening.

In an earlier column, I wrote about frontline services as the key to feel the sudden rush of new blood, new programs and the different brand of service being implemented. Yes, that change was palpable in the first 100 days of the Duterte administration, the challenge is to make it sustainable and to grow roots in the bureaucracy. But after 10 months in office, reorganization has to be considered so that some bureaucratic paralysis is attended to. Let us begin with the Office of the President (OP) which is composed of the Office of the Executive Secretary (OES), Presidential Management Staff (PMS), Cabinet System and the Office of the President proper. These agencies serve the President and it is vital to clean the stables (although battling with a snake pit is hard) to stop the erosion from within.

There are institutional memories in the OP. The PMS for one is key because this is where complete staff work, or CSW, has been drilled in its operating procedure across administrations. The President does not utter a word until it has been studied and vetted by the PMS. The OES ensures that directives are written clearly and are sent out to agencies that will implement them. Critical in any issuances are the implementing rules and regulations. The OES transforms Cabinet decisions and presidential directives into formal orders. I understand that today the OES is more focused on general services than ensuring that integration across departments are established. Of course, a vital cog in the Cabinet system is a cluster system that is operating well. Before issues are calendared at the Cabinet, the cluster system should have studied and recommended options. During weekly meetings, it is critical that the Cabinet gets to exhaustively discuss options and scenarios so that the President can make informed choices.

Proof that PRRD has a kind heart is his willingness to hold on to officers and staff of the previous administration. Some are not even career people but are masters in buttering up to presidents (aka political survivors. Imagine in critical departments, there are still remnants of the previous dispensation who until today handle core plans, programs and activities. Imagine leaks being made by design and some innocuous documents getting out in the public arena. Imagine decisions already made but are not downloaded so the whole organization does not move. Imagine unfilled positions not being made known to the rank and file so they can apply for promotions or to the public, so they can submit their applications. Imagine a bureaucracy that is so used to “noynoying” and is now being asked to work 24/7because the new leader works to the brink of exhaustion. Imagine decisions not cascaded to national agencies, regional offices and the local government units.

Imagine the expansive communications network of government at the national and local government units not being used to battle the propaganda lines of the so-called opposition. Imagine all the heaving done by the President and a few of his men and women when there is a full gamut of national and local networks to do this. When one needs to create the space and make it big, you just see the President and some of his people doing it on their own, albeit the Davao way. Why?

Do we have a deep state in our midst that it seems every push is countered, every act, opposed? Every framing, repositioned? Every utterance, painted as being uncouth? Every sincere effort to build is questioned? Perfect example is the apparent failure of the military and police establishments as well as the national security adviser on security threats and the war against illegal drugs. The Abu Sayyaf leaving Sulu and going to Bohol is a perfect example of failure of intelligence. When we are hosting Asean, we should be on critical red alert. Back-to-back travel warnings all made during the busiest days of Holy Week were not reassuring.

A deep state is a “political situation in a country when an internal organ such as the armed forces and civilian authorities do not respond to the civilian political leadership.” When they do, one needs to transform them. It may sound conspiratorial but a deep state can also take the form of entrenched unelected career civil servants acting in a non-conspiratorial manner, to further their own interests and in opposition to the policies of elected officials, by obstructing, resisting, and subverting the policies and directives of elected officials. Time to shake the bureaucracy. Remove the laggards and promote the honest rank-and-file who can do the job better. And get the search committee to do a deep search so the vacancies are filled up.

One management author once said, “reorganization to me is shuffling boxes, moving boxes around. Transformation means that you’re really fundamentally changing the way the organization thinks, the way it responds, the way it leads. It’s a lot more than just playing with boxes.” Start with the OP and the departments doing frontline services. Get them running well, get them servicing the people more.000
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