We have a lot of negative associations with bureaucracies. They can be alienating, impersonal, and dehumanizing for both workers and those being served by the bureaucracy. For being ‘rational,’ they can be quite inefficient, with ‘red tape’ and limited effectiveness when flexibility is needed. Bureaucratic ritualism is when there is such a focus on the rules and regulations to the point of undermining goals and loosing sight of the larger picture. There can also be a problem of a self perpetuating oligarchy, or the rule of many by few, concentrating power and weakening accountability.
All of these problems can be seen in the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. From local individuals and the Canadian government responding faster than the United States, to the neighboring parish (Louisiana has instead of counties) refusing admittance from New Orleans, there was a bureaucratic breakdown in government. When trained people from other areas tried to volunteer to help, FEMA had them hand out pamphlets and fliers.
Though it is worth watching in its entirety (parts I&II, parts III & IV), Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Parts explores the problems between state and federal government bureaucracies from 1:19:03 to 1:42:18.