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Bureaucrats reborn

If bureaucracy had a birthplace, it could be in the spectacular Uffizi Palace of Florence, Italy. “Uffizi” means offices, and although this 16th century masterwork of Italian Mannerist architecture is now known as one of the world’s greatest museums, it was originally intended to house civil servants.

Today, Italy’s civil service is undergoing a renaissance of its own. According to Franco Bassanini, Italy’s minister of public management, until quite recently his country’s bureaucracy was characterized by “islands of excellence in a sea of general inefficiency.” He spoke at a seminar last February at idb headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Bassanini said there had been no government-wide administrative reforms in Italy since 1860. But in the early 1990s, as the country struggled to balance the budget and reduce public debt to meet the stringent fiscal requirements for membership in the European Union, the urgency of reform became apparent. For the first time, according to Bassanini, a broad consensus in favor of radical government modernization emerged among the Italian public, business leaders, labor organizations and parliament.

The result has been a broad series of measures designed to simplify government regulations, streamline administrative procedures, devolve authority to local governments, and create a more transparent central budgeting process that emphasizes concrete results. For example, setting up a new business in Italy used to require 43 different authorizations from 15 different public agencies and could take up to five years, according to Bassanini. Today, as a result of the administrative reforms, new businesses submit a single authorization request that takes an average of only three months to complete. The government is promoting this concept of “one-stop” administrative solutions in numerous other sectors as well, and it is increasingly relying on the Internet as a means of simplifying paperwork.

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