I’ve been thinking about bureaucracy a lot lately, especially as I hit my 4th week in the Department of State. This past summer, the MPA students took “Public Administration and Democracy,” where we learned that basically bureaucracy exists to get things done. Sure, there’s the glitz and glamor of policy and politics, but when it gets down to it, bureaucracy lies at the heart of a functioning society. Of course, back then my impression of what that meant was in terms of making sure the lights come on and the buses run (sometimes even on time). However, I never realized how that related to foreign affairs until now.
Bureaucracy helps make US embassies safe. Bureaucracy uphold US diplomatic relationships with other nations. Bureaucracy keeps nasty weapons out of the wrong hands. Heck… bureaucracies even help us MAIR interns get to our internships when we fly! When it comes to State Department bureaucracy, there’s a lot of waiting around for clearances, for badges, and even for access to a computer. You have to check a document that 10 other people have checked, then forward it on for 5 more people to check over. I used to think this was over-kill, but then when I considered what might happen without these checks… well, those things that I mentioned in the first few sentences might not be the case anymore. International security and foreign relations might be compromised without these basic steps that so annoy all of us.
Whether it’s diplomacy, humanitarian aid, international organizations, trade, or nonproliferation, bureaucracy makes sure that policies can be put into place. It helps the right people get the right resources in order to make sure everyone can do their job. Without it, we’d just have a bunch of words and nothing being done. All of the things that people want to actually do in the world wouldn’t be able to happen if bureaucrats weren’t rolling up their sleeves and typing up some memos to an embassy. It’s just amazed me how many of the officers in DOS rely on this kind of bureaucracy to make sure things happen. International relations isn’t just a set of theories and abstract concepts about security or development work…. instead it’s filled with real people doing real work to make the world a better place. And the rules that govern them help keep it all relatively in order despite everything that’s working against it.
If it’s one last thing I’ve learned in the State Department– besides lots of foreign affairs– it’s that MAIR students learn just as much about bureaucracy as MPA students. We may not have the requirement to take the specific class on it (although thanks to Maxwell we’re still 100% able to take the class), but we sure as heck learn about it during our time here anyway. The internship has been an incredible way to take all of the big concepts we learned in the classroom in Syracuse and apply it directly to what we want to be doing in the first place. This is even more important when you consider how hard it is to get your foot in the door in some of these places.
Also, it wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the mad writing skills that Maxwell has helped me gain– I’ve gotten so many compliments on my memos!