The concept of bureaucracy has undergone a degree of proliferation that has made it impossible to furnish a single, unequivocal definition of it common to the social sciences. The only paradigm that is commonly agreed on is Weber’s definition of bureaucracy as a necessary expression of rational legal power. Nevertheless, the concept of bureaucracy conveys two explicitly negative connotations that are perceived by the general public as its two greatest problems: the inefficiency of public organisations and the arbitrary behaviour of its officials. Itemising the characteristics of the bureaucratic personality, Merton includes ritualism and deresponsibilisation. Crozier also notes that the larger and more complex that organisations become, the higher the level where responsibility for decision-making is vested, creating a decision-making bottleneck. The empirical research conducted by Jochimsen in Germany seems to confirm that an increase in an organisation’s dimensions can generate significant diseconomies of scale. More recently, the theories of public choice have contested the assumption that officials interpret the public interest. Lastly, the crisis of the welfare state has led to a containment of public organisations and to the rise of the doctrine of new public management, which preaches the superiority of the private sector and suggests the introduction of the mechanisms of the market and of competition in the public sector. Despite the radical transformations wrought by new public management, scepticism towards public organisations is widespread in all Western countries, as recent surveys conducted at European level by the Eurobarometer have demonstrated. In conclusion, the article mentions the empirical research conducted to establish the effectiveness of ombudsmen in influencing the public’s perception of bureaucracy and in changing its practices.
Keywords: Bureaucracy, Public administration, Theories of public choice, Organisations, New public management, Ombudsman