WTF #6: Bureaucracy

WTF #6: Bureaucracy

Despite FluxCorp being a multinational corporation, the amount of bureaucracy that I deal with day-to-day is usually pretty minor. That’s because I rarely stray outside of my job function. However, whenever I have strayed, that’s when I notice the huge bureaucratic machinery operating (usually) invisibly in the background. A couple of years ago, our satellite office purchased nearly a million dollars of lab equipment. We wanted to move some heavy workbenches from one room to another and was told by our Real Estate Department that it will take 3 weeks to secure a quote from local movers and that the cost of moving would probably be $3000. With that much money in equipment, we also thought it’d be a good idea to get a lock for the door. Unfortunately, Real Estate said they first need to go through a procurement approval process for the purchase, then send out a purchase order from corporate headquarters to Home Depot, and arrange delivery to our local office. It’ll take up to 8 weeks.

Eventually, we took the morning off, moved the workbenches ourselves, visited Home Depot to buy an $8.99 lock, and then expensed our $100 group lunch to the company. It just seemed more efficient that way.

Then there was that time when Payroll reported our income to the government in the wrong currency. Our local financial comptroller had been laid off, resulting in our payroll function being moved to our out-of-country corporate headquarters. Dare I say this was a case of not enough bureaucracy at the local level?

Such idiotic examples are minor irritants since they happen rarely. But what if part of your job function is to deal with bureaucracy on a regular basis? In a few months, I’ll be moving up the food chain from being a grunt to being a grunt manager. Already, I’m being copied on e-mails about internal audits, external audits, and processes. Yes, yes, it’s all important stuff. But I’m an engineer, right? Right?!

On a more immediate timeframe, the bureaucracy that I’m currently dealing with is government bureaucracy. Due to the recent job action at FluxCorp, my fate now lies in no small part with my soon-to-be communist overlords in China. Well, they’re no longer communists; rather, they’re Communists. And if I want to work under the Communists on a long-term basis, I must provide a good amount of paperwork. The graphic below shows the checklist of all the paperwork that’s required:

Almost every item on the checklist requires additional maneuvering through other bureaucratic mazes. For example, one item is getting a medical exam. This requires booking the exam at a Chinese hospital with the hospital itself requiring its own set of documents for the exam. Or the item about renewing my passport since mine expires in less than a year. So I need to go about my merry way to collect enough documents to satisfy my own government in renewing my passport. And so on, and so on…

So what bureaucratic nonsense have you had to deal with? Share you story in the comments below.

What The Flux is a semi-regular weekendish feature on that follows the follies and jollies of an engineer in industry, yours truly.


I don’t want to sound unpleasant but I have no other way to convey this other then just right out. You really have no idea how bad it can get. Try working for the Government, the ultimate bureaucracy. I work as an EE for a DoD research lab.

At least in the private sector there’s a natural restraint to increasing bureaucracy: profit incentive to be efficient. The government does not have incentive to be efficient. Bureaucracy grows at an uncontrolled rate.

I’d like to vent my grief in citing examples. Most would take too long to convey, some would get me fired for mentioning. I will say this. To order a $5 network cable right now requires a 10 stop approval process via 3 different computer systems, has to join a pool of similar orders before getting transmitted to DC for final approval. Then comes back down to local admin to be put on a buyer’s desk where it gets some more scrutiny. If all is found to be properly filled, then it will get ordered. This whole process can take a month or so. Once it comes in, then it sits on a receiving dock for a week or so before more paperwork is processed to show it is received then I can pick up my cable.

O, and if I had the urge to just buy a cable out of pocket to get the job done, I’d technically be committing a crime, and lose my job. Something about committing the government. Don’t ask me to explain it. No expensing lunches here.

I’m about as low on the management poll as one can get, true-est form of ‘just engineer’ yet I have to deal with this purchasing system weekly. Not to mention silly things like “Radio emitter self-audits” and other nonsense.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. The fact that I design and build things that keep war fighters out of harms way is very fulfilling, and I get to leverage government education outreach money to do cool things like visit schools and get kids interested in STEM.

But nothing any private sector engineers/management types will ever see will come close to the bureaucracy of the government. No private company could survive a day in the free market if it came close to how bad the government piles it on.

Great story. I’ve never worked for government, so I can only live vicariously through stories such as these. Your experience seems pretty consistent with the stores I’ve heard over the years. It seems to me there’s efficiency and then there’s fairness and oversight. Unfortunately, these are competing specs in the system and government tends to pile on the oversight bureaucracy in order to create the perception of fairness. Of course, oversight only pertains to the little people. Politicians often seem to create backdoors for their high powered friends and allies, and of course, themselves.

In academia, the best expression about bureaucracy is this:

“In academia, the fights are so fierce because the stakes are so little.”

People want to hold on to their little niche with a death grip like the guy in office space that just walks paper work around (the jump-to-conclusions-mat guy).

With that said, it’s not so bad here. The only difficulties I’ve had are needing components ASAP, which I buy and then get reimbursed. No biggie.

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