Beat Bureaucracy

Case Study 2    Use the 4 Simple Rules for Beating Bureaucracy       
30 minutes

Scenario: Government breaks promise to nail deadbeat dads

The government has established a Family Maintenance Enforcement program. The purpose of the program is to make sure that parents who are ordered by a court to pay child support actually pay. The program has the power to force payment, including the right to garnishee the wages of parents who don't pay.

Your ex-spouse hasn't paid child support for the past two years. Because your children are five and three years old, you can't work full-time and are having difficulty making ends meet. You enrolled in the Family Maintenance Enforcement program 18 months ago. Despite the government's glowing statements in news articles about the program, nothing has happened. When you call the program office and key in your case file number, an automated voice tells you that your caseworker is actively investigating your claim and will get back to you when there is anything new to report. You are not given the option of talking to someone.

Exercise worksheet

You have decided to try to get the help you have been promised by using the Four Simple Rules for Beating Bureaucracy. Map out a step-by-step plan by doing the short exercises below. (You can print this page and use it as a worksheet, or highlight it and copy it to your files.)

1. Who's in charge? Don’t complain to employees who have no authority to solve problems. Ask to speak to a supervisor and don't take no for an answer. If necessary go all the way to the top.

Exercise: You can't even ask to speak to a supervisor at the program office because they won't answer the phone, so you decide to send them a registered letter stating that your case is urgent. a) Who should you send the registered letter to? b) Sending copies of your letter to other people might pressure the program to reply to you. Who could you send copies to?

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2. Be persuasive. Explain in detail why you should receive assistance. Be reasonable rather than cranky or accusing. You may wish to begin with a phone call, but always put your appeal in writing and attach evidence — bureaucracies run on paper. If there is an official appeal process, use it.

Exercise: Write down several persuasive points about why the Enforcement program should be pursuing your case vigorously. What written "evidence" could you provide?

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3. Be persistent.  Don’t let the system wear you down. Wear it down. Don’t give up because you’re tired or frustrated — friends, family and support organizations can bring fresh ideas and energy to the battle.

Exercise: Assume that the Enforcement Program has agreed to meet with you. Who should you bring with you? Think of your friends and family—is there anyone who would be particularly good at this? Or is there an advocacy organization in your community for single parents or people with low incomes that might come with you?

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4. Push back, hard.  If your appeal is rejected, call the bureaucracy to account. Bureaucracies try to look invulnerable. Find their weaknesses. They may fear bad news coverage or phone calls to government ministers or a web campaign against them.

Exercise: Think of at least two strategies you could use if your letter is ignored.

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Feedback on your work

After you have answered the exercise questions, click here to see the Bureaucracy Navigator’s ideas about this scenario.