Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Dr. Rosemary O'Leary: Managing Guerilla Government

As part of the course requirements for FOR 496/797 Women & Environmental Careers, students share responsibility for reporting on speakers.  The following was prepared by Arlene Ast.

Dr. Rosemary O’Leary, distinguished Professor of Public Administration at The Maxwell School, Syracuse University discussed “Managing Guerilla Government:  Scientists’ Dissent in Environmental Organizations.”   Dr. O’Leary was the final speaker of the SUNY-ESF’s Women in Scientific and Environmental Professions Spring 2007 Seminar Series and was sponsored by the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry and the ESF Women’s Caucus.

Dr. O’Leary discussed the topic of “Guerilla Government” which refers to career public servants who act against the wishes, either explicitly or implicitly, communicated by a superior. They are not political appointees. Most are not whistleblowers or themselves corrupt.  


While working as a Director at a State Environmental Agency, she decided to obtain data to provide a more complete and accurate scientific account of activities. This information was to provide a basis for intervention and dispute system design. O’Leary noted it should be “Built for Diversity” with a balance in decision making. The thesis of her book is that “Guerilla Government” happens all the time. There is manifestation of inevitable tensions between Bureaucracy and Democracy, which never go away. She illustrated that Bureaucratic Politics, Ethics and Organizational Management are all intertwined.

O’Leary provided many specific examples of “Guerilla” intervention and its impact on the final outcome and directed individuals to her recent book “The Ethics of Dissent: Managing Guerilla Government (Public Affairs and Policy Administration)”for 24 separate and distinct examples of Guerilla Government. She found that many “guerillas” work behind the scenes. They obey superiors in public but in private may leak information to the media or ghostwrite letters. These individuals may neglect policies or directives in which they disagree or they fail to implement orders they think unfair.

“Guerilla Government is here to stay,” stated O’Leary. She noted that most public organizations are inadequately equipped to deal effectively with Guerilla Governments. O’Leary provided suggestions to work with Guerilla Governments which include encouraging staff to challenge assumptions and actions of the organization to create multiple channels for dialogue, debate and dissent. “There need to be dissent boundaries and you need to know when to stop. You must understand the formal and informal (i.e., Guerilla Government) organization. Learn to separate the people from the problem and listen.”

In closing, O’Leary suggests that before you consider becoming a “Guerilla,” you must consider that any change may be immediate and permanent. “Your reasoning could be based on safety and health concerns. Clearly, an ethical decision. However, be aware that others may view your choice as insubordinate and with an ulterior motive.”

Dr. O’Leary is a graduate of the University of Kansas and obtained her Ph.D from Syracuse University in Public management, law and public policy, organization theory, administrative and environmental law, environment and natural resource policy and management, as well as dispute resolution. She serves as the Co-Director, Program for the Analysis and Resolution of Conflict, and Senior Research Associate in Syracuse University's Campbell Public Affairs Institute and Center for Environmental Policy and Administration..  O’Leary’s areas of expertise include Public Management, Environmental Policy, Dispute Resolution, and Law.  She is nationally recognized for her teaching, research, and service.
For more information about the Women in Scientific and Environmental Professions Speaker Series, please visit http://www.esf.edu/womenscaucus.
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