Tulane VISTA Blog

Fighting Poverty with Passion

Field Report: Benjamin Banneker Elementary School

Bureaucracy In Action

In graduate school I studied public administration, which is essentially the study of bureaucracies and their actions. As a VISTA working for Tulane in a New Orleans public school, I have moved from looking at the theory of bureaucracies to interacting with a variety of different organizations. Let me provide a run-down of all the organizations I encounter on a daily basis.

  1. I am a volunteer in service to America (VISTA), which falls under the umbrella of the Americorps organization, which falls under the umbrella of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), a federal government agency. These organizations set specific rules I must abide by in my work and even in my personal life (for example, I am not allowed to have a second job).
  2. My specific VISTA position is funded by the Department of Education and the President’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Initiatives. They have set the framework and goals for the work I am doing at my school.
  3. My VISTA position is with the Tulane Center for Public Service (CPS). This fine institution gives me even more rules to abide by, but also provides me with help and advice in fulfilling my mission.
  4. Although my position is with Tulane’s CPS, I actually work at a school, Benjamin Banneker Elementary, which has its own organizational culture, policies, and guidelines.
  5. My school is not an independent organization. It is run by the Recovery School District (RSD), which provides another layer of rules and policies.
  6. Finally, there are a number of smaller organizations who I work with on a fairly regular basis: the neighborhood association around my school, different elements of Tulane university, etc.

Clearly there is a wide range of organizations that I encounter regularly. Not all of these can be considered bureaucracies, but most of them are fairly large organizations that have formalized rules and procedures. These rules and guidelines can often seem cumbersome and unnecessary to someone like me, who is at the lower end of the organizational chains of command. As a “front-line worker” (or “street-level bureaucrat,” as we said in school), you want to have discretion to perform your job to the best of your ability, and sometimes rules can impede that discretion.

As a VISTA, I have certainly found a number of regulations that I must comply with, but overall I am surprised by the amount of discretion I have been given by all of my governing organizations. I am free to pursue goals that I have thought of myself using original methods. And when I do encounter rules and bureaucratic measures that seem to slow or frustrate my efforts, I need to remind myself that there is usually good reason for these measures. The organizations who I work with want me to succeed. I am glad to have a large amount of discretion in my work, and happy to have a large number of organizations support my ideas.

– George Doonan Martin, Tulane VISTABenjamin Banneker Elementary School


About Tulane VISTA

Notes from the field from the AmeriCorps VISTA team at Tulane University.


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