Who is responsible for red tape in management? Why is it only seen in bureaucratic organizations?

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detroitted eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In essence there are two questions here:

1) Who in management is responsible for "red tape" in a bureaucratic organization, and

2) Why is "red tape" only prevalent in bureaucratic organizations, and not in other types of organizations such as scientific or administrative ones (even though formal procedures are often used in those types of organizations as well)?

First, note that "red tape" is in quotes, as it is a form of jargon.  Merriam-Webster defines it as:

"official routine or procedure marked by excessive complexity which results in delay or inaction."

As such, it is generally thought of as a pejorative.  The key to the question is in the idea of complexity which is "excessive" relative to the desired outcome or purpose of the task.  Quite simply, what is excessive to one person may make perfect sense to another, so the existence of red tape is often the perception on the part of the person being delayed or frustrated.  For example, to a builder who wants to drain a tidal pool and build a new high rise apartment, the number of studies and permits required, often by multiple entities, may seem like red tape.  However, to the people whose interests are being protected by those studies and permits, they are important and add value.

That being said, people on both sides of an issue will generally agree that red tape exists when the process of addressing and balancing these competing interests could be more efficient and transparent.  In other words, you minimize red tape by engineering the process to require minimum time and minimum expense on all sides, by making the need for each step clear, and by making the required steps easy to understand and comply with.

The association between red tape and governmental organizations (bureaucracies) is common usage, but red tape can be perceived in any type of organization, consistent with the principles above.  However, it is generally believed that governmental bureaucracies evolve red tape, because they are not subjected to market disciplines which for other types of organizations motivate them to be efficient and transparent.  This leads to another principle, namely, that the more insulated a function is from market-type interactions, and therefore the more arbitrary power it wields over its "customers," the easier it is for it to survive despite being inefficient and/or non-transparent (opaque).  Further reading in this regard should be directed to areas of market economics and forms of economic organization.