Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 July 2014
The term ‘red tape’ has its origins in sixteenth-century English local government, and as such, it is one of the native concepts of public management. As Bozeman (2000: 12) explains, red tape is ‘rules, regulations, and procedures that remain in force and entail a compliance burden but [do] not advance the legitimate purposes the rules were intended to serve’. While a number of bureaucratic maladies have attained mythical stature over the years (such as goal ambiguity and structural inflexibility, topics covered in Chapters 2 and 4 respectively), red tape is perhaps the most pervasive and damaging overall. This is, in part, because critics claim that red tape makes life hard for public employees and citizens alike, and takes a heavy toll on the performance of public organizations. This is attested to by the widespread international literature on red tape and regulation by key policy organizations such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Research on red tape has focused on three important areas. First, scholars have sought to improve how they define and operationalize the term by examining global measures of red tape and management subsystem measures, differences between objective and perceptual measures of the concept, internal and external forms, and organizational and stakeholder red tape. Second, scholars have sought to document public–private differences in levels of red tape and determine whether public organizations are more red-tape bound than their private sector counterparts. Third and most important, scholars have recently begun investigating the impact of red tape on governmental performance, and they have sought to identify ways that policy-makers and public managers can effectively combat these ill effects.