Bureaucracy and Red Tape

Have you ever spent an entire morning waiting in line at the DMV, or been on hold for 15 minutes on the phone listening to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” ? If you have, then you’ve experienced an ancient institution called bureaucracy. Bureaucracy seems to be that monkey wrench in your plans that always seems to pop up at the most inopportune times. According to Noah Webster and brothers Charles and George Merriam, the word “bureaucracy” is defined as:

1.) a: a body of non-elective government officials

     b: an administrative policy-making group

2.) government characterized by specialization of functions, adherence to fixed rules, and a hierarchy of  authority

3.) a system of administration marked by officialism, red tape, and proliferation

In other words,not just people telling us what to do, but people whom we did not elect telling us what to do. People whom, for whatever reason (e.g. who they knew, who they blackmailed, or just by getting lucky), have positions of power that allow them to either make our lives easy or very, very difficult. Now bureaucrats are also arguably very useful, providing the grease that keeps our governments and companies moving day to day; however, they can also become incredibly annoying cogs in your life.

I am currently waiting for my permit to dig from the Ministry of Culture. This organization oversees all archaeological digs in Peru among other culture heritage related endeavors. The process has become less “political” over the years (i.e. less about who you know) and more technical. Fortunately for me, the permit that Carmela (HARP co-director) and I submitted has passed through the technical review where the details of the dig like the coordinates of our excavation units and our methods are evaluated. For about a week now we’ve been waiting on the final approval which consists of two signatures. The estimated time for these two signatures is two weeks. That is 7 days per signature! Does the Ministry of Culture really look like this?!

Now I give young Peruvians, students in college, a bunch of credit. They’re savvy enough these days to worry about relationships that will potentially affect their future careers. They eat lunch, grab coffee, talk shop with whoever they can now because in 5 years that person may be sitting in one of those chairs with a stamp in their hand like the seated man in the picture above. Carmela has been a champ, calling frequently, visiting the Ministry, and doing whatever she can to keep the ball rolling, and I sincerely appreciate her efforts. Apparently all things depend on who you know. Peruvians are fond of saying “es así en Peru” (that’s just the way it is in Peru), but is it any different in the U.S.?

Well, here’s to breaking through the red tape…

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