Blog Assignment #3 (Part 1 of 2)

Identify and describe linkages and connections offered by Baldacci’s fictional account of intergovernmental relations and that offered by Shafritz et al.

The Forgotten by David Baldacci is about Army Special Agent John Puller.  Puller goes to a small town in Florida called Paradise, to ask his aunt about a cryptic letter she sent to his father.  Once in Florida, Puller’s finds out his Aunt is dead.  Although the local police rule the death accidental, Puller investigates further to find that this sleepy, rich beach town is not what it seems.  He quickly uncovers that Paradise is a gateway to human trafficking and slavery.

Photo courtesy of davidbalacci.com

Photo courtesy of davidbalacci.com

I am an avid reader.  Therefore it is no surprise that I not only started The Forgotten before the beginning of the semester, but I also finished it.  At the time I was reading for pure entertainment, but now I can see several links and connections between this fictional story and the ideas and concepts presented in our textbook.   The six connections include: (1) street-level bureaucrats, (2) pluralism, (3) power-internal perspective, (4) cultural norms, (5) the marble cake theory/ cooperative federalism, and (6) honor.

In our textbook Shafitz, E.W., & Borick (2013) explains Michael Lipsky’s  street-level bureaucrats as  low-level public officials who are in constant contact with the citizens (38).  These indviduals are the ones actually implementing and enforcing public policies.  In the case of The Forgotten, the local Paradise police would be considered the street-level bureaucrats.  They are in constant contact with the community’s citizens.  In fact, they were so in-tuned with their small community that they were made aware of Puller’s presence at his Aunt’s home almost immediately.  However, I feel like their “street-level” implementation left a lot to be desired.    It is easy to assume that no foul play occurred when an elderly person dies in a community predominately populated by retirees.  The Paradise police failed to properly investigate the death of Puller’s aunt—even though there was enough to suspicion to warrant some kind of investigation.   Furthermore, they failed miserably at reporting the death to the family.   The Paradise police responded to this elderly woman’s death as just another old, lonely geezer biting the dust.  The Paradise police also failed to addresses gang related violence and immigration issues in the community.  Paradise police were concerned about preserving the touristy image of Paradise rather than serving and protecting the citizens in their community.  The street-level bureaucrats in Baldacci’s novel were failing to enforce public policy and procedure.  They simply were looking the other way.

Baldacci does a pretty good job showing the multiple elements of American government.  Shafritz, E.W., & Borick (2013) calls this concept pluralism.  The local and federal dynamics of government can be seen in interactions between the local police and Puller (Army).   Throughout the book there is a power struggle over who should or shouldn’t be handling the investiagtions of the strange happenings around Paradise.  Officer Barry Hooper has a particularly difficult time in coordinating efforts with Special Agent Puller.   Puller had a difficult time understand how the local police could quietly sweep suspicious occurrences and gang related issues under the rug.  It is obvious that the different government agencies have different interests.  Eventually the Chief shifts some power to Puller in regards to aiding in investigation.  The high levels in military were even concerned about Puller’s involvement with the happenings in Paradise which demonstrates the pluralism even within the same government agency.

Photo credit: Google Image.
Norms are established and followed in most organizations and cultural environments. As seen in Paradise, not all norms put into place are beneficial.

Paradise is a town just like any other in America—they have an established organizational structure with a set of social norms.   Shafritz, E.W., & Borick (2013) explains that ‘organizational culture is created by the attitudes and behaviors of the dominate (64).  The dominate group in Paradise are the rich and powerful.  As a result, minorities and the poor in Paradise are considered a nuisance; so much so they are actually banished to live on a certain side of town where they lack many resources and services.  It is normal, even expected, for crime and violence to occur in “ghetto” Paradise.  It is also more common than not for the City of Paradise to sweep these occurrences under a rug.   The acceptance of this culture in Paradise sets the theme for the citizen, employees, and the government of the city.

This video breaks down the fundamentals of federal powers v state powers.  The video fails to mention all the gray areas within government and the fact that responsibilities are always changing.

To me the most obvious concept in Baldacci’s novel is power.  From the very beginning there is a power struggle between the local agencies and just the presence of Puller.    I believe the Chief of Paradise was intimidated by Puller’s rank and position as a federal specialist agent in the United States Army.   Sharfitz, E.W., & Borick (2013) quotes organizational theorist Jeffrey Pfeffer:

‘Those persons and those units that have the responsibility for performing more critical task in the organization have a natural advantage in developing and exercising power in the organization…Power is first and foremost a structural phenomenon, and should be understood as such’

The power struggle between local officials and Puller impeded the investigation process.   Could this human trafficking operation been dismantled sooner if the interdependent units could work more dependently with one another?  Power is a funny thing on many levels—intergovernmental relation is no exception.

Photo credit:  Starbucks.  http://www.starbucks.com/menu/food/bakery/marble-pound-cake Cooperative federalism, also known as marble-cake federalism.  According to Shafritz, the marble-cake metaphor shows the intermingling of government at various levels (136).

Photo credit: Starbucks.
http://www.starbucks.com/menu/food/bakery/marble-pound-cake
Cooperative federalism, also known as marble-cake federalism. According to Shafritz, the marble-cake metaphor shows the intermingling of government at various levels (136).

Once the egos are set aside and the struggle for power is no longer important, I believe that Puller with Carson and the local government start to work together.  The acknowledgement of the problem at hand and the common interest to rectify the situation is enough for everyone to set aside whatever differences existed.  Shafritz, E.W., & Borick (2013) calls this cooperative federalism (138).    The “rules” or “jurisdiction” did not matter anymore now that the problem was evident.  Puller and the gang just wanted justice to be served!  Mateo and hundreds others needed the government’s help and that’s exactly what they would get— bureaucracy be damned!  Shafritz, E.W., & Borick (2013) may also consider this level of coordination between Puller, Carson, local agencies, and even the Colombian agent as picket fence federalism (142).  Picket fence federalism is the concept at which ‘bureaucratic specialist at various levels of government exercise considerable power of the nature of intergovernmental programs” (Shafritz, 142).  Shafritz, E.W., & Borick  (2013) describes these specialists as communicating daily, belonging to the same organizations, and having the same professional training (142).  Puller and the others did have similar trainings and were forced to communication within one another on a daily basis during the investigation.  Furthermore, were part of government on some level.

Photo credit:  United States Military Academy, West Point. http://www.usma.edu/scpme/SitePages/Honor.aspx

Photo credit: United States Military Academy, West Point.
http://www.usma.edu/scpme/SitePages/Honor.aspx

Finally, the entire book is based on HONOR.  Puller is a special agent for the United States Army.  His duty is to investigate the integrity of internal operations in the Army.  One a personal level, Puller went to Florida to honor his concerned father’s wishes about his elderly sister.  He investigated his Aunt’s death to honor her memory.  Puller continues to investigate because he is driven by his moral compass.  It is almost as if Shafritz , E.W., & Borick (2013) describes Puller when he states “true honor begins with personal integrity and honesty…this is at the core of honor” (172).  Honor, like in Puller’s case, can be the driving force for individuals in the public sector.

Shafritz, Jay M., Russell, E.W., & Borick, Christopher P. (2013). Introducing Public

       Administration (8th ed.). Boston, MA. Pearson Education, Inc.

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