A theory of government "red tape"

Barry Bozeman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

282 Scopus citations


Despite the general recognition of the importance of "red tape" on organizations' behaviors and impacts, theory remains poorly developed. The purpose of this article is to develop a theory of the origins of red tape and then to apply the theory to the question "Why do government organizations have more red tape?" The perspective presented assumes that red tape is best viewed as pathological, whereas that formalization concepts are best viewed as neutral attributes of organizations. The term "rule density" is introduced to describe the extensiveness of rules and regulations as related to total organization resources. The theory makes a distinction between rules that are at their origin dysfunctional (rule-inception red tape) and rules that initially served a useful function but transformed into red tape (rule-evolved red tape). Specific causes of each type red tape are identified. A distinction is made regarding the internal vs. external production and impact of red tape and a typology is developed which is used in hypotheses about red tape. Finally, the question of government red tape is considered. A model of the relationship between external control and red tape is presented. The model implies that most factors leading to red tape are not an inherent function of government. However, two inherent factors of government are cited, each of which gives rise to red tape.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)273-304
Number of pages32
JournalJournal of Public Administration Research and Theory
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1993
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Marketing


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