Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, June 7, 2010

Scholars chart research into effect of red tape on citizens

For many people, fighting City Hall means having to cut through layers of red tape.

But getting caught in government bureaucracy is about more than one person's bad experience with public officials, says Donald Moynihan, associate director and professor in the University of Wisconsin-Madison's La Follette School of Public Affairs. It also affects citizens' relationships with the public sector and how they perceive government.

Wisconsin Public Radio features conference

Bureaucratic red tape has been around since the earliest days of human civilization. But only recently has it become the subject of academic research. Gil Halsted reports on an international red tape seminar.

"The interaction between the citizen and government isn't just about someone being dissatisfied at an individual level, but whether a government is creating a citizenry that's more engaged in society and more likely to pursue civic behavior, or a citizenry that feels like it's withdrawing from the public sphere because it isn't respected by government," Moynihan says.

Moynihan argues that while studies have looked at how managers in public organizations perceive the burdens of red tape, less attention has been paid to how red tape affects citizens' experiences with government.

The public management expert is hosting a group of about two dozen international scholars at the Red Tape Research Workshop: Rethinking and Expanding the Study of Administrative Rules at the University of Wisconsin-Madison June 2-4 to chart a course for research into red tape.

Moynihan says he'll argue for greater focus on the ways that red tape — or administrative rules that place a significant burden on the part of the person trying to access a program — affects how people interact with government. One study Moynihan authored with La Follette professor of public affairs Pamela Herd suggested that red tape can create a disproportionate negative burden on some groups, forcing those people to accept tradeoffs of certain rights.

"By and large, the literature on red tape hasn't dealt with the loss of some rights being a big problem, and that's one area where we need to pay more attention," he says.

Policymakers are interested in finding practical ways to minimize the negative effects of red tape within organizations, and on citizens and government bodies, adds Moynihan, an internationally recognized leader in the study of public sector reforms and government efforts to measure performance.

Conference topics include red tape theory and empirical testing; a review of red tape measures, measurement development and other measurement methods; underexplored aspects of red tape; untested components of red tape theory and hypotheses; and questions, methods, and opportunities for setting a 10-year research agenda.

Speakers from the La Follette School include Moynihan and professors Carolyn Heinrich, David Weimer and Susan Yackee. A full agenda and a list of speakers is available online. Support is provided by the university's Center for World Affairs and the Global Economy, Center for European Studies, and European Union Center of Excellence.

Scholars look at effect of red tape on citizens' relationships with public officials, University of Wisconsin-Madison news release, June 3, 2010

Scholars look at effect of red tape on citizens' relationships with public officials, Media Newswire, no date

La Follette School hosting red-tape conference, June 2, 2010, La Follette School News