Narendra Modi, the new prime minister of India, promised in his campaign to clean up the notoriously slovenly ways of the Indian bureaucracy. According to the Washington Post, he is doing exactly that. As the Post explains:
Babudom [“Babu” is the nickname for a member of the upper echelons of the bureaucracy] is now in peril. Modi signaled as much in the early days of his administration, when he summoned about 70 of the government’s top civil servants, gave them his personal cellphone number and e-mail address, and said it was time for work. A circular appeared the next day with what has been called Modi’s “11 Commandments” — orders to clean work spaces, shorten forms, weed out old files and review goals.
When the Home Ministry (roughly the equivalent of the Department of the Interior) cleaned out 150,000 files, they found some that went back to the British Raj. Then they allegedly compiled a list of bureaucrats known to frequent golf courses and stay at five-star hotels and sent it to the prime minister’s office. It seems to be working. About 200 babus were members of the elite Delhi Golf Club. Many have now resigned from the club and others are teeing off at 5:30 a.m. The prime minister is given to calling ministers on their landlines just to make sure they are in their offices.
Barack Obama is totally uninterested in managing the government he heads. That’s why he only finds out about, say, the mess at the Veterans Administration when he reads about it in the papers. But that’s part of the president’s job whether he likes it or not. And Republican presidential hopefuls for 2016 would be well advised to take a leaf from Modi’s playbook. The federal bureaucracy is nowhere near as corrupt, convoluted, rule-ridden, and slothful as the Indian one, which is the gold standard of bureaucratic inertia and dysfunction. But it is corrupt, convoluted, rule-ridden, and slothful enough. The federal government was last fundamentally reorganized in the late 1940s and early 1950s by the Hoover Commissions. The world has changed profoundly in the last sixty years and the government has not. Promising thoroughgoing government reform and reorganization, while riding herd on the bureaucracy, is a winning issue.