THE INVESTIGATORS: Managing FBI and Narcotics Agents by James Q. Wilson

THE INVESTIGATORS: Managing FBI and Narcotics Agents

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

This close analysis of management procedures as they have affected the work loads and investigative habits of the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration may seem like an arid probe into bureaucratic structures. In fact, what Harvard professor Wilson has done is to point up some of the hidden obstacles to well-intentioned reform of federal agencies. His point of departure is the sharp disjunction between the ""tasks"" or ""operations"" of individual agents and the priorities of administrators. The two agencies considered, though both in the business of law enforcement, are historically and organizationally dissimilar--a fact mirrored in their styles of dress, degree of centralization, and manner of developing cases for prosecution. While the FBI investigates after the fact, DEA undercovermen frequently act as ""instigators"" of drug buys--a practice which has drawn the criticism that the DEA catches small-time dealers while big wholesalers are untouched. This, apparently, isn't happenstance--any more than the FBI's long record of preferring ""gangster"" cases over white-collar or syndicate crime. Both are the result of managerial imperatives (e.g., Hoover's wish to keep FBI men from temptation) and the intractability of basic ""tasks"" (e.g, drug trafficking as the point of access). Managers necessarily worry about constraints on their departments, about bureaucratic rivalry, budget cuts, autonomy, and the protection of the agency against critics. In a democratic-society they cannot do otherwise. Thus Wilson suggests that the whole ""from-the-top-down' perspective is wrong; management tends not to be ""rational"" since it is always looking out for its ""political maintenance needs."" The clear implication is that law enforcement agencies less hamstrung by the Constitution and public opinion could be more task efficient--but at too high a cost. Important for policymakers though laymen may view it as an apologia for bureaucratic inertia.

Pub Date: May 12th, 1978
Publisher: Basic Books