Your Government (Not) at Work: Why Do People Think the Government Is Inefficient?

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Anyone with an interest in politics or careers in the government has likely heard all of the jokes about government jobs. The popular perception of careers in the government holds that the mechanisms are ancient, creaky, and underdeveloped.

However, the US government brings in millions of dollars in tax revenue every month and is one of the most well-funded organizations in the world. How did such an organization get a reputation for using outdated HR software systems and web design from 1999?

The Government Isn’t a Monolith

The first misconception that leads to people thinking the entire government is inefficient is tied in with a specific viewpoint about the government itself. Many people think of the government as a monolith, a single, cohesive unit that functions under tight management from a few bureaucrats. That’s not remotely how it works in reality, though.

The government is broken up into hundreds of organizations, ranging from the massive ones like the military and the IRS to the smaller agencies and offices that oversee the little things. Like any organization, the smallest agencies can often get overlooked when the federal government is drawing up a budget.

As such, sometimes the perception of the “inefficient government office” is more accurately a description of a smaller agency that has been denied the funding they need for a few years in a row. These organizations might find themselves short on employees, using outdated software, or simply constrained by some new regulations that inadvertently affect them.

In Reality

In reality, the entirety of the US government can’t be a creaky, outdated bureaucracy that works in spite of itself because it’s the governing body over the biggest economy in the world. If all of the various agencies and offices that comprise the federal government were inefficient and outdated, the country simply wouldn’t function.

It’s worth looking more closely at the intent of the person saying the government is inefficient: Does this person have a vested interest in a competing political party securing office in the next election? More often than not, politics drives people to characterize the current government makeup as being unwieldy, rather than engaging with the policies that they actually don’t like.

So, while the perception of the understaffed and underfunded government office is an enduring one, it’s not exactly representative of reality. That doesn’t stop people from making the same old jokes, though.