Public institutions, unless periodically renewed, lose sight of their purpose. As monopolies, they have no incentive to change, and become outdated.
It reminds me of John W. Gardner, “That human institutions require periodic redesign, if only because of their tendency to decay, is not a minor fact about them, nor easily understood. Taken the span of history, there is no more important lesson to be learned .”
Since public institutions are the only show in town, they have no incentive to provide quality service or to change. They often become complacent, and tend to lose sight of the purpose for which they were created. And when threatened, they do what bureaucracies do well — circle the wagons, turn a deaf ear and outwait lawmakers.
Some agencies are so far gone that they have not only lost their purpose, but have become a burden on the taxpayer. I suspect that if you asked struggling administrators what was the legislative intent of the agency they oversee, they would be hard pressed to answer. The most counterproductive thing is when bureaucrats continue to write more meaningless regulations that protect the interest of the institution at the customer’s expense. The result is the agency becomes bloated with burdensome regulations, atrophied, and unable to change with the times.
Many times, any relation to what the legislative intent is and what the regulations reflect is purely coincidental. Nevertheless, agencies continue to fine-tune the regulations at their convenience, rather than eliminating those that become only more costly. As Gardner has said, “The last dying breath of a bureaucracy is to write another policy in the policy manual.”
Public institutions, without oversight to make sure they keep pace with change, tend to begin dying of old age. They also become alive when people and leaders are there to renew their original purpose in its current environment. The Utah juvenile court is a good example of how institutions can be renewed. Over the years, the state juvenile court system slowly drifted from the original purpose for which the juvenile court was created in America — to act in the minor’s best interest and public safety.
Institutions move one of two ways, either by strong leadership or a crisis. Fortunately, leaders of the 2013 Legislature recognized how the Utah juvenile court's mission needed to be renewed to deal with today’s problems by reaffirming the purpose of juvenile courts — do what is best for the minor and public safety in today’s environment. They said it was in the state’s interest to invest early in helping juvenile courts rehabilitate minors, rather than commit them to adult courts. As such, they amended the Serious Youth Offender law that would give juvenile court judges the discretion to keep minors in the juvenile court or transfer them to the adult court in keeping with what is the best interest of the minor and public safety. Legislators understood there might be a need for providing more resources at the front end, rather than the back end, to prevent further crime and return to prison.
What lawmakers have shown is that with visionary leadership our government institutions can be kept vibrant and responsive to changing conditions.
Utah native John Florez served on the U.S. Senate Labor Committee, as Utah industrial commissioner and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and on the Commission on Hispanic Education. Email: jdflorez@comcast