The difficulty of bureaucratic reform, India edition

I just found an interesting NBER working paper (gated) looking at the frustrations of trying to reform the Indian bureaucracy.  The paper is titled “Deal with the Devil: The Successes and Limitations of Bureaucratic Reform in India” and is written by Iqbal Dhaliwal and Rema Hanna.

It reinforces the argument that technology is no panacea in these types of reform. There seems to be no easy answers or shortcuts to bringing about real reform. Here is a shortened version of their abstract:

Employing a technological solution to monitor the attendance of public-sector health care workers in India resulted in a 15 percent increase in the attendance of the medical staff. Despite initiating the reform on their own, there was a low demand among all levels of government–state officials, local level bureaucrats, and locally-elected bodies—to use the better quality attendance data to enforce the government’s human resource policies due to a fear of generating discord among the staff. These fears were not entirely unfounded: staff at the treatment health centers expressed greater dissatisfaction at their jobs and it was also harder to hire new nurses, lab technicians and pharmacists at the treatment health centers after the intervention. Thus, this illustrates the implicit deal that governments make on non-monetary dimensions—truancy, allowance of private practices—to retain staff at rural outposts in the face of limited budgets and staff shortages.