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Parsing Bureaucracy in DE US Government

Tutt Stapp-McKiernan

It turns out to be harder to portray the bureaucracy of bureaucracy than one might think.

Students in Ruth Marshall’s Dual-Enrollment US Government class recently undertook to do what their assignment claimed would be “Creating a Bureaucracy to Study Bureaucracy.” The title implies that the projects, each explaining a department or agency of the US Government, would serve as de facto parodies of the bureaucracies-within-the-Bureaucracy they were describing, simply by virtue of each agency’s or department’s complexity--thereby making the point that the US Government is...well, bureaucratic.

However, even though students’ posters and props were largely devoted to illustrating the complex layering of sub-agencies and sub-sub-basements of huge Cabinet-level organizations like the Department of Defense and independent behemoths like the FBI, the students’ presentations were so clear, and their understanding of each agency so well expressed, that the US Government came off sounding downright user-friendly. How did they do it?!?

Some highlights:

  • Austin Blackburn turning over his poster, to audible intakes of breath, to reveal Side 2, his cascading array of tiles representing the all-but-innumerable subdivisions under the Department of Homeland Security.

  • Derek Pantel offering his list of things that aren’t regulated by the FDA, but should be. Brilliant!

  • Andrew Renz explaining the Federal Reserve so succinctly and clearly that this writer (who is approaching retirement) actually understood it for the first time.

  • And Toby Rafferty, illustrating the near-obsolescence of the US Postal Service by saying that the only actual letters he writes anymore are to his grandmother. One absolutely could not help but smile.

Mrs. Marshall also had coveted prizes to award. The “Bubble Gum Red Tape Award for Bureaucratic Authenticity” (i.e., information and knowledge) went to James Sturdevant, for his report on the Department of Education. The “Chocolate Bar Award for Customer Satisfaction” ( i.e., quality of oral presentation) went to Will Rich, for his reporting on the CIA.