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Too much bureaucracy? Answers and solutions

Digital format, 22/03/2022, Cross-generation roundtable

Aspen Institute Italia promotes continuous analyses and proposals on the effectiveness and efficiency of the public administration (1). This roundtable offered an opportunity to present the Aspen Collective Mind research paper “Promoting international experience in Italy’s public administration”. The proposal, considered ready for immediate launch, stems from the need often expressed during Aspen Italia meetings to enhance awareness of Italian interests in European and other supranational settings (2).

Despite various attempts at reform, the gap between the goal of simplification and the perception of citizens and businesses it still too wide. The question is to decide what hurdles to remove, keeping in mind not least the government’s ambitious plan to simplify or replace 600 procedures by the end of 2026 within the scope of the PNRR.

The term bureaucracy – intended as official power – was coined somewhere around the sixteenth century. It was at that time that large nation states were born and the administrative function became an instrument for maintaining political stability and influence. With the gradual independence of the administrative apparatus, however, confusion arose between the intentions behind policies and their practical application. This produced distortions such as the excessive preventive control of administrative activity that continues to make it difficult to achieve policy aims. The best-case scenario would be to limit the control that policy exerts over administrative action by embracing the following principle: everything not expressly prohibited is permitted.

Statistical studies of recent years have shown that Italian public administrative staff are older and earn less than the international average; moreover, they appear incapable of achieving the results demanded by policy due to its excessive control over administrative activity. Attempts to introduce a distinction between policy and administration have failed, with public opinion barely having been aware of it. The recruitment and training, pay rates and meritorious advancement of public administrative personnel are all elements in need of reform.

The pandemic experience has foregrounded distortions in the system of law sources; with second tier legislation putting limitations on constitutionally protected rights, it follows that no realistic assessment can be made of the impact of this evolution. The result is the limitation of a cardinal principle of civilization and democracy – ensuring citizens and businesses legal certainty.  

The additional issue of progress in digitizing procedures must also be viewed from a generational perspective that encompasses “born digitals” as citizen-users. Digital reform must be interpreted as an opportunity to reorganize administrative procedures and train administrative personnel; the risk otherwise is the dubious effectiveness of automating existing procedures. There is a certain inertia in undertaking proposed initiatives; for instance, the scarce integration of various central and local government databases continues to oblige citizens and businesses to waste time collecting and submitting documentation that is already in the possession of those administrations.

All too often, the lack of laws or a degree of vagueness therein creates the need for judicial intervention in order to obtain realistic or even “creative” interpretations, at considerable financial and social expense. An example of such complexity, in stark contrast with the hoped for simplification, are the regulations concerning construction-industry “super-bonuses” that over recent years have produced a plethora of documentation (including FAQs) and interpretative circulars that have disoriented citizens, businesses and professionals alike.



(1) See the following studies carried out in coordination with Sabino Cassese and with the scientific editing of Giorgio Mocavini:

 

  • Aspen Institute Italia, “I maggiori vincoli amministrativi alle attività̀ d'impresa: dai casi specifici alle soluzioni”, collana Aspen Italia Views, ed. Treccani, Rome, February 2016

https://www.aspeninstitute.it/attivita/E-book/I-maggiori-vincoli-amministrativi-alle-attivita-dimpresa

 

  • Aspen Institute Italia, “Le riforme della pubblica amministrazione nella XVII Legislatura. I motivi ispiratori, i risultati conseguiti, gli obiettivi da raggiungere", Rome, 26 September 2018

https://www.aspeninstitute.it/attivita/la-riforma-della-pubblica-amministrazione-i-motivi-ispiratori-i-risultati-conseguiti-gli-o-0

 

(2) The paper was produced in the context of the Aspen Collective Mind program launched in 2020 with the cooperation of Prof. Alberto Quadrio Curzio, and published on the website of Aspen Institute Italia:

https://www.aspeninstitute.it/aspen‐collective‐mind. It was drafted by three Aspen Institute Italia Junior Fellows Alberto Cagnazzo, Valeria Cipollone and Giorgio Mocavini with the scientific coordination of Massimo Massella Ducci Teri.