Dear Bureaucrat, our computer system is useless!

Dear Bureaucrat,

My agency uses an on-line system for responding to Freedom of Information Act requests, but the system is useless. Half the people who need to work on a request don’t have passwords for the system, so I need to constantly email and phone them about what they need to do. There are review and approval steps that my agency requires, but aren’t part of the workflow in the system, so I have to remember who needs to see what, whether they’ve responded, etc. Every step I have to do that the system pretends doesn’t exist is another chance for errors to creep in, which I get blamed for. I’ve talked to IT about matching the system to what we actually need to do, but they say the development contract ended years ago, so there’s no budget for changes. What can I do?

Charlie “Modern Times” C.


Dear Charlie,

Occasionally an agency is forced to admit that a system development project failed. But your problem in more common—the system is bought, paid for, and officially a successful implementation. It just doesn’t do what the workers need to get their jobs done.

The fix is that workers create our own solutions to do what the official system doesn’t. Spreadsheets are the most common form, but people also use templates, macros, web-based file sharing services, etc. IT departments call this “shadow IT” and point to the security risks. I prefer the term “cuff system” which goes back to when bookkeepers would write a number on their shirt cuff to remember a figure that wasn’t in the official ledger. As to security, the data breaches that have made headlines were from official enterprise systems. Cuff systems done properly can beat that record.

Look for ways to… Read the rest in Federal Times:


Beyond Guerrilla Government: Intrapreneurs, Cuff Systems, Side Projects and Hacks

Click for PDF, doi:10.13140/RG.2.1.1067.2803

Public administrators often pursue their public interest aspirations and personal aspirations by taking initiative independent of their supervisors. Rosemary O’Leary (2006) called this “guerrilla government”, and provided real-life examples ranging from whistleblowers to “a state department of transportation employee who repaired a train gate where children were playing against the wishes of his superior.” (O’Leary 2010, 12)

O’Leary examined such behavior as a predicament for supervisors—should they “nurture, tolerate, or terminate” their guerrilla employees? (2010, 8) But independent initiative is not only a predicament for supervisors, it is a vital part of the public administrator’s toolkit. Whistleblowing is one form of independent initiative, but Continue reading “Beyond Guerrilla Government: Intrapreneurs, Cuff Systems, Side Projects and Hacks”