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The first essential to efficient administration of any enterprise is full knowledge of its present make-up and operation. Without full and complete information before them, as to existing organization, personnel, plant, and methods of operation and control, neither legislators nor administrators can properly perform their functions.
The greater the work, the more varied the activities engaged in, and the more complex the organization employed, the more imperative becomes the necessity that this information shall be available—and available in such a form that it can readily be utilized.
Of all undertakings, none in the United States, and few, if any, in the world, approach in magnitude, complexity, and importance that of the national government of the United States. As President Taft expressed it in his message to Congress of January 17, 1912, in referring to the inquiry being made under his direction into the efficiency and economy of the methods of prosecuting public business, the activities of the national government “are almost as varied as those of the entire business world. The operations of the government affect the interest of every person living within the jurisdiction of the United States. Its organization embraces stations and centers of work located in every city and in many local subdivisions of the country. Its gross expenditures amount to nearly $1,000,000,000 annually.. Including the personnel of the military and naval establishments, more than 400,000 persons are required to do the work imposed by law upon the executive branch of the government.
“This vast organization has never been studied in detail as one piece of administrative mechanism. Never have the foundations been laid for a thorough consideration of the relations of all of its parts. No comprehensive effort has been made to list its multifarious activities or to group them in such a way as to present a clear picture of what the government is doing. Never has a complete description been given of the agencies through which these activities are performed. At no time has the attempt been made to study all of these activities and agencies with a view to the assignment of each activity to the agency best fitted for its performance, to the avoidance of duplication of plant and work, to the integration of all administrative agencies of the government, so far as may be practicable, into a unified organization for the most effective and economical dispatch of public business."
To lay the basis for such a comprehensive study of the organization and operations of the national government as President Taft outlines, the Institute for Government Research has undertaken the preparation of a series of monographs, of which the present study is one, giving a detailed description of each of the fifty or more distinct services of the government. These studies are being vigorously prosecuted, and it is hoped that all services of the government will be covered in a comparatively brief space of time. Thereafter, revisions of the monographs will be made from time to time as need arises, to the end that they may, as far as is practicable, represent current conditions.
These monographs are all prepared according to a uniform plan. They give: first, the history of the establishment and development of the service; second, its functions, described not in general terms, but by detailing its specific activities; third, its organization for the handling of these activities; fourth, the character of its plant; fifth, à compilation of, or reference to, the laws and regulations governing its operations; sixth, financial statements showing its appropriations, expenditures and other data for a period of years; and finally, a full bibliography of the sources of information, official and private, bearing on the service and its operations.
In the preparation of these monographs the Institute has kept steadily in mind the aim to produce documents that will be of direct value and assistance in the administration of public affairs. To executive officials they offer valuable tools of administration. Through them, such officers can, with a minimum of effort, inform themselves regarding the details, not only of their own services, but of others with whose facilities, activities and methods it is desirable that they should be familiar. Under present conditions services frequently engage in activities in ignorance of the fact that the work projected has already been done, or is in process of execution by other services. Many cases exist where one service could make effective use of the organization, plant or results of other services had they knowledge that such facilities were in existence. With the constant shifting of directing personnel that takes place in the administrative branch of the national government, the existence of means by which incoming officials may thus readily secure information regarding their own and other services is a matter of great importance.
To members of Congress the monograph should prove of no less value. At present these officials are called upon to legislate and appropriate money for services concerning whose needs and real problems they can secure but imperfect information. That the possession by each member of a set of monographs, such as is here projected, prepared according to a uniform plan, will be a great aid to intelligent legislation and appropriation of funds can hardly be questioned.
To the public, finally, these monographs will give that knowledge of the organization and operations of their government which must be had if an enlightened public opinion is to be brought to bear upon the conduct of governmental affairs.
These studies are wholly descriptive in character. No attempt is made in them to subject the conditions described to criticism, nor to indicate features in respect to which changes might with advantage be made. Upon administrators themselves falls responsibility for making or proposing changes
which will result in the improvement of methods of administration. The primary aim of outside agencies should be to emphasize this responsibility and facilitate its fulfillment.
While the monographs thus make no direct recommendations for improvement, they cannot fail greatly to stimulate efforts in that direction. Prepared as they are according to a uniform plan, and setting forth as they do the activities, plant, organization, personnel and laws governing the several services of the government, they will automatically, as it were, reveal, for example, the extent to which work in the same field is being performed by different services, and thus furnish the information that is essential to a consideration of the great question of the better distribution and coördination of activities among the several departments, establishments and bureaus, and the elimination of duplications of plant, organization and work. Through them it will also be possible to subject any particular feature of the administrative work of the government to exhaustive study, to determine, for example, what facilities, in the way of laboratories and other plant and equipment, exist for the prosecution of any line of work and where those facilities are located; or what work is being done in any field of administration or research, such as the promotion, protection and regulation of the maritime interests of the country, the planning and execution of works of an engineering character, or the collection, compilation and publication of statistical data, or what differences of practice prevail in respect to organization, classification, appointment, and promotion of personnel.
To recapitulate, the monographs will serve the double purpose of furnishing an essential tool for efficient legislation, administration and popular control, and of laying the basis for critical and constructive work on the part of those upon whom responsibility for such work primarily rests.
Whenever possible the language of official statements or reports has been employed, and it has not been practicable in all cases to make specific indication of the language so quoted.