The OECD Civil Servant. Between Scylla and Charybdis
This study reveals a fundamental ‘misfit’ between external demands and internal dynamics in the OECD secretariat.
Martin Marcussen and Jarle Trondal
Civil servants in international secretariats are exposed to numerous, crosscutting and, at times, conflicting pressures and expectations. The OECD secretariat is no different. This study reveals a fundamental ‘misfit’ between external demands and internal dynamics in the OECD secretariat.
On one hand, OECD analysts are employed on the basis of merit. Compared to employees in central administrations in many OECD member states, OECD personnel is very competitive in terms of experience and academic skills. Thus, the OECD secretariat can be seen as a veritable power-house of idea generation, data collection and analysis. On the other hand, OECD member states seem to be reluctant to let the OECD do what it does the best: producing bright, challenging and provocative ideas. In many regards, OECD personnel is, in practice, being reduced to undertaking basic secretariat functions such as organizing meetings, writing summaries and arbitrating between conflicting national interests.
Despite having a vast role-repertoire at their disposal, this article reveals the paradox when OECD officials play out only two roles: the epistemic role, in which creative thinking and innovation is rewarded, and the bureaucratic role, in which rule-following and regularity is rewarded. This paradox is characterized as a role-dilemma which is compatible with the idea of the OECD as an international compound bureaucracy. The article concludes by suggesting three scenarios of how the observed dissonance between the internal and external dimensions of the OECD identity can be accommodated.