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There is a problem in the quality of public services because of low staff turnover. Alexey Barabashev, Dean of the HSE Faculty of Public Administration talked to a journalist from “Izvestia” about the reasons for the slow renovation of our bureaucracy.
“Izvestia”: According to your observations, is there an improvement in the bureaucracy of Russia or not?
Alexey Barabashev: The machinery of State is being updated. This is progressing latently and slowly, but steadily. New people enter the lower stages of management and move up gradually. There is natural shift of generations. There is a growth in the number of administrative specialists i.e. graduates of specialized faculties: they made up only about 2 % of the number of staff ten years ago only, while today there are more than 350 faculties of public administration in Russia, which in total provide several thousand specialist graduates annually. These people who enter government service are ready to change the system of working.
I: You’ve said “latently”. Does this mean that the renovation of the State’s machinery is a spontaneous process?
Barabashev: It means that process is visible still only to experts. It’s like a river that flows beneath the ice: The spring thaw has started but the results haven’t appeared on the surface yet. In other words, the reform of public service is happening, but it is necessary to have a certain critical mass of modern managers to break the ice and let others see the results.
I: But it’s known that when a new person gets into the walls of power…
Barabashev:…its walls can grind him down. It’s true but not entirely so. There is also the concept of social relay races, the essence of which is that a person who enters an unfamiliar environment integrates into it but changes it a little at the same time. It means that it is impossible to grind everything. Thus it is impossible to say that only the younger generation of officials supports positive changes in the bureaucratic system, while the older generation resists. it’s more about the expert and the layman.
I:How do you evaluate the quality of the personnel reserve created in the regions and federal districts as well as at the presidential level? Do the records reflect only the desire for change or there is some fresh blood?
Barabashev: The point is not the personnel reserve but how people are selected from that reserve. This is the responsibility of those responsible for hiring, the difficulty comes when you hire a person for the post and he/she proves unsuitable. It can backfire on you.
These two principles of professionalism and personal loyalty clash with each other not only here but in all countries around the world. I am reminded of a trip through the U.S. Department of State, we were a few experts and we talked with a senior person from one state. “And how do you build a successful team?”, - we asked. “Guys, what textbooks do you get this nonsense from?. Of course, I must have confidence in the man, otherwise I will not hire this person”, - he answered.
There is only one solution: the system of demand for quality must be adapted. Moreover there must this demand from a superior. A typical manager will be scared of employing people without skills because he or she understands the risks of losing his or her post. But if the superior doesn’t feel responsibility for the process he won’t care about the quality of work and he will always gravitate towards taking a person with connections, a relative or someone who is on intimate terms with a superior.
I: Is there this demand for quality in Russia?
Barabashev: It is increasing. There are impetuses from the country’s leaders, demand for the effectiveness decisions is increasing. Another thing is that these impetuses take time to make their way through the thickness of State’s machinery. So, I can’t say that they have reached every official yet.
I: Coming back to the personnel reserve… Do we know their total number, how many people are sitting on the reserves bench?
Barabashev: No, we don’t know. As far as I know, there is not a single register. Another problem is formalism at the creation reserves. It`s useless to simply create a list and report the existence of this list. It’s possible to create any amount of “reserve benches” by such a simple process. But reserve is reserve only if someone is engaged in the professional development of people who are included there. Do we have a clear and unified technology of work with national reserve? We don’t have it. There are islets, there are training programs, but all of that is fragmentary.
In other words, there is no problem of selection – it has already been solved – but there is the problem of educational work and also the problem of vacant positions on which reservists could be recommended later. It is necessary to educate and promote participants of the national personnel reserve. We implement the innovative educational programs, probations and after that we solve the problem of job placement. Where does this take place? At their former place of work? Why then all this? That’s why we are in the middle of the process of building the staffing growth system.
I: Medvedev criticized the system of selection and personnel rotation in the civil service for having a Soviet approach two years ago. Do the majority of the departmental personnel services still work archaically or they have changed their approach?
Barabashev:We have very heterogeneous pattern now. You know, it’s like an army which has stretched out during a march: the front has already joined the shooting and the back has just moved off from the starting point after breakfast. There are structural subdivisions which have already transformed into governances and management departments of public service. For instance, we see that at the Ministry of Economic Development and at the State Duma there are clarification of job regulations, indexes of effectiveness, performance measurement of service activity and analysis of employee efficiency and so on. However, in many departments they work in the old way – they conduct personal affairs, card-indexes, tables, they are not pushed in any way, they don’t interfere in anything.
I: Is it possible to decide on the optimal number of officials? Dmitry Medvedev asked this question to the Government during a meeting but he didn’t get a response.
Barabashev: There have been repeated attempts to reduce the percentage of officials in both our country and other countries. Every time it recalls the struggle with a dragon when you cut off one head but three heads grow. So, something is wrong here, it necessary to look at it in another way.
The so-called ‘Theory of Transaction Costs’ (the less the number of employees in State authorities, the less costs, so it’s preferable to decrease it to zero) was popular in the 1970s and proved to be inconsistent, which is today acknowledged around the world. . It is intuitive that a good public manager gives added value, helps to find consumers, and creates conditions for small business development and so on. Therefore, it’s necessary to understand and account for who spends national money and who helps to improve the economy and the social well-being of its citizens.
Another thing is that there is no calculation scheme of the state machinery’s efficiency at an individual level. If it was we could say: this minister brings so many billions of rubles per year, and this one – so many millions, and the loss from the activity of another one amounted to this much because he didn’t sign the documents on time or made the wrong decision. And then it would be possible to reduce those state agencies, their departments and positions that operate at a loss. And the reduction of the state machinery by an equal percentage is like chopping down all the trees in a forest to the same height.