Ralph E. Shaffer and
Walter P. Coombs


   Bureaucrats are under attack again, this time from a coalition whose 

principal interest seems to be to pour public money into charter schools.  

You've seen the commercial: Mom lets the kids out in front of bungalows that 

dominate the crowded school yard, then urges you to sign a petition that will 

guarantee money for classrooms, not bureaucrats.  Next to a promise to cut 

taxes, attacking bureaucrats is the surest way to the voter's ballot.

   The last eighteen months haven't been good times for California's public 

employees - er, bureaucrats, - whether they work for cities, counties, the 

state or schools.  Governor Gray Davis hasn't been forthcoming with anticipated 

pay raises.  Government workers face a major increase in the cost of health 

care, and unions representing those on the public payroll are out of favor.  

While that's enough to make anyone downhearted, the unrelenting attack on civil 

servants by both friend and foe in recent elections put them one step below 

folks who hawk used cars and just above telemarketers.

  Condemnation of those "who slop at the public trough" has long been a staple 

of right wing rhetoric.  In his unsuccessful race for governor Dan Lungren 

attacked "educational bureaucrats in Sacramento."  He implied that classroom 

reachers and the capitol bureaucracy were synonymous, forgetting that he 

himself was a two term Sacramento bureaucrat.

   The right also used the threat of an increased bureaucracy in its assault on 

Prop. 10, the early childhood development proposal financed by a tobacco tax, 

in 1998.  Conservatives zeroed in on Prop 10's formation of 58 county 

commissions with "thousands of new bureaucrats" and "a massive state 

bureaucracy."  The fear of bureaucracy came within a percentage point of 

outpolling the fear of tobacco.

   To the astonishment of most observers, the educational establishment 

condemned by Lungren joined the anti-bureaucrat bandwagon. The California 

Teachers Association attacked the "huge bureaucracy" at Sacramento that would 

have been created by a 1998 proposition requiring that state employees rather 

than private business handle design work on state-funded projects.  CTA also 

used that argument to oppose an initiative creating an inspector of public 

schools, whom they called a "Bureaucracy Czar." 

   CTA doesn't seem to realize, as Dan Lungren did, that in the popular mind 

teachers, as public employees, are part of the detested educational 

bureaucracy. The union's anti-bureaucracy campaign tactic, repeated in support 

of Prop. 26 in this year's March primary, has contributed to a growing 

animosity toward "bureaucrats," which has come to include anyone who draws a 

government paycheck. At a time when public schools face increasing hostility 

from those who support private education, charter schools and vouchers, the 

union has foolishly played into the hands of those would crush public 


   Instead of joining in a non-productive attack on fellow government workers, 

CTA would have served their membership better with an informational campaign 

devoted to raising the public's awareness of the service provided by state and 

local workers in all fields.  Those so-called bureaucrats are our neighbors who 

help provide needed public services from garbage collection to public safety, 

water and air quality control, and protection of public health.  The extremists 

would privatize all public services, including schools and law enforcement, 

under the guise of cutting big government.

   Unthinkingly, many Americans complain about the officialdom at the motor 

vehicle department or the tax assessment office.  But if asked to seriously 

consider the privatization of such services, they would realize that these 

matters in private hands would represent a grand opportunity for lining 

someone's pocket at the public's expense.

  If bureaucracy is an inflexible routine, with rigid rules and forms, then it 

is as surely entrenched in private business as in government.  Try arguing with 

bureaucrats at the phone company or a cable provider.  And if you think the 

clerk at DMV is an uncaring great stone face, what about the voice mail at any 

bank, insurance company or HMO?

   Public employees have taken a beating in recent elections, but the effect 

goes far beyond the passage or failure of a single proposition.  CTA's 

unfortunate decision to attack bureaucrats has tarnished the image of all civil 


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   [Ralph E. Shaffer and Walter P. Coombs are professors emeriti at Cal Poly