Bureaucracy in the trenches: the real factors of autonomy and performance of Brazilian public servants

Organized civil service systems are created to secure professionalism and political neutrality in the bureaucracy. In order to achieve these goals several countries adopt legal statutes that establish merit-based recruitment and protection against dismissals without cause. However, several factors besides positive norms influence the degree of neutrality and professionalism that public officials achieve in the complex reality of the administrative state. This paper analyzes three of these factors in the Brazilian context: (i) the institutional conventions actually followed by public entities, many of which beyond or even against statutory provisions; (ii) the presence of interest groups and agency problems, since bureaucrats have their own personal interests and form organized interest groups to defend them, every so often in misalignment with the Administration’s desires; and (iii) the behavioral incentives posed by the statutes that discipline the civil service legal regimen.