Document Name: Introduction
Owner: National Performance Review
People said it couldn't be done. When President Bill Clinton announced in March 1993 that "the federal government is broken and we intend to fix it," the old hands in Washington, D.C., shook their heads. You'll never fix the federal government, they said. Been there, done that, doesn't work.
When he announced a governmentwide initiative to "reinvent government" called the National Performance Review, the skeptics raised a collective eyebrow.
And six months later, when the National Performance Review's first report--From Red Tape to Results: Creating a Government that Works Better and Costs Less, the blueprint for reinvention--was published, they sighed, "Another report for the shelf."
But they didn't count on the experts President Clinton called in to run the show.
Calling in the Real Experts
If you want to make a real change, you have to engage the people most likely to be affected--the ones who are already involved and who have the most at stake in getting the job done right. You have to seek their advice and give them the power to fix what they--more than anyone else--know needs fixing.
The bigwigs who said the federal government couldn't be reinvented had never talked to the real experts. When they said it couldn't be done, they didn't count on the folks who had been wanting the chance to do things right for years, the folks who had been trapped between the needs of the American people and the rigidity of the government bureaucracy.
* They didn't count on Bill Freeman, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration's man in Maine. Freeman's inspection team won award after award for finding and fining worker safety violations, yet he knew injury rates weren't improving. So he sat down with the companies with the most injuries, and negotiated agreements that would really work. Now, the companies' own workers are finding and fixing 14 times as many hazards as Freeman's people could have found. worker injuries are dropping, and it's costing less.
* They didn't count on Bob Molino, director of procurement for the Defense Logistics Agency. Molino got fed up with 700-page specifications for chocolate chip cookies, massive and costly inventories of unused supplies languishing in government warehouses, and a rigid and senseless system of sealed bids for selecting suppliers. He keelhauled the whole system. Now Defense buys many of its supplies from normal commercial suppliers like everyone else does. And it's using an electronic purchasing system so simple and inexpensive that other agencies are asking Defense to handle their purchases too.
* They didn't count on Neil Jacobs, of the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Dallas. Jacobs decided it was crazy to surround a factory and arrest and deport immigrants with fraudulent papers. This only crippled the business that had unknowingly hired them--and the workers themselves simply returned a few weeks later. Now, Jacobs meets with the business owner, arranges for legal replacement workers at the same wages, and then deports the illegal immigrants--protecting the business and filling the vacancies the illegal immigrants might try to come back to claim. At last, business owners feel helped, not harassed.
Don't believe it? Then believe the Ford Foundation and John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, which named these and other federal reinvention initiatives as finalists for the prestigious Innovations in American Government awards this year.
There's a Wrong Way and a Right Way
Sure, people have tried to reform the federal government before--almost a dozen times this century, and almost always unsuccessfully. But most of these earlier attempts went nowhere because they were done backwards: from the top down instead of the bottom up. They didn't ask for ideas from the American public--or from the federal government's own front-line workers, who try to serve the public every day. Most often, the efforts consisted of studies led by outsiders with no real stake in the results.
Doomed from the start, they failed. It could hardly have been otherwise.
As frustration with the federal government has mounted, some people, including many in Congress, have decided that the way to fix government is just to eliminate as much of it as possible. That might help bring the budget into line--or it might do no more than shift around a lot of organizational "boxes." Much of the government would then simply continue operating as it always had.
The main problem with taking an axe to the federal government is that it won't fix what remains. Government would be smaller, but it would still be as inflexible and bureaucratic. Cutting may treat a couple of symptoms, but it won't cure the disease.
Americans are frustrated, irritated, confused, even angry about our government--about the cost, and the hassle, and the inflexible rules, and the uncooperative attitude. But we're even angrier that our great dream seems to be slipping away--the dream of a government that is "of the people, by the people, and for the people," a government that isn't "them" but "us." And we don't want to give up on that dream. It is what set us apart from the rest of human history nearly 220 years ago, when we declared independence from England, and it's what we stand for throughout the world today.
Reinvention at a Glance
Reinvention Is Well Under Way
Government Costs Less
Government Is Becoming Less Intrusive
Congress Is Helping
And while the great debate continues over what government should do, we know what basics we expect to get: protection from enemies here and abroad, clean air and water, food that's safe to eat and toys that are safe for our kids to play with, help in emergencies, safe workplaces, and so on. We don't want to get rid of government; we want it to work better and cost less. We want it to make sense.
Report at a Glance
A Government That Makes Sense
America was born angry at government nearly 220 years ago, and we're no different today. The less government there is, the more we like ituntil disaster strikes, or we lose our job, or need medical care we can't afford. Then we want government to be there for us, and quickly.
For years, Americans had been complaining their government was in their face, not on their side. That was then. This is now: throughout government, front-line workers are asking their customers what they need, instead of telling them. They are beginning to manage the work of the people like the best in business. Federal Agencies are actually getting fan mail. Social Security's "800" number is rated better than L.L. Bean's for customer service.
Along the way, government is getting smaller. As a result of actions taken on recommendations made in 1993, there are more than 160,000 fewer federal workers than when President Clinton and Vice President Gore took office. It is becoming smaller daily. Savings totaling $58 billion are locked in. Another $50 billion are on the way.
Americans have waited a long time for a government that makes more sense. Out of frustration, some have proposed scrapping large portions of it. But this isn't what the people say they want. Polls show Americans are angered less by what government does than by how it goes about its business. We want it better managed. We want it to use common sense.
People want to do the right thing. Problem is, the government makes it almost impossible to figure out what the right thing is. So President Clinton challenged federal agencies earlier this year to overhaul in 100 days the way the government regulates people and businessesby focusing on results, not red tape.
He asked agencies to assume people are honest, not dishonest, and intelligent, not stupid. He asked that rules be written in plain language and that obsolete rules be dropped. He asked that agencies get out of Washington, create partnerships with those being regulated, and negotiate, not dictate. As a result, of the 86,000 pages of federal regulations reviewed so far, 16,000 pages of obsolete regulations are headed for the scrap heap. Another 31,000 are being reworked. Agencies held more than 300 meetings around the country and identified 40 instances where negotiating made sense. Agencies are beginning to evaluate their employees' performance based on results, like reduced worker injuries, and not on the number of fines or penalties assessed. In the process, they are reducing regulatory and administrative burdens on the public by nearly $28 billion.
Putting Customers First
Last year, in many cases for the first time, federal agencies asked their customers what they wanted and how they defined good service. They used these results to develop customer service standards. Then more than 200 agencies did something most businesses don't dothey published their standards and distributed them to their customers. Just recently, agencies surveyed their customers to find out how well the government is living up to those standards, and they will use the responses to improve service even more. In addition, several agencies are comparing their operations to the best in businessand increasingly are beating them.
Getting Our Money's Worth
Obsolete government programs and waste drive Americans crazyafter all, it's their money. Since the reinventing government initiative began in 1993, the Clinton Administration has proposed eliminating more than 400 obsolete programs and is in the process of closing more than 2,000 unnecessary field offices.
But that wasn't enough. President Clinton asked Vice President Gore to launch a new effort to identify additional programs that could be reinvented, terminated, privatized, or sold. He identified nearly $70 billion in new savings. The Energy Department will sell the Naval Petroleum and Oil Shale Reserves. The Office of Personnel Management has privatized its training operations. The Department of Housing and Urban Development will consolidate its 60 programs into four, Congress willing. The Department of Transportation plans to shrink its 10 agencies into three. And more.
At the turn of the century, the phrase "good enough for government work" meant the best. Now it is a term of derisionmuch like the phrase "made in Japan" meant cheap and shoddy just two decades ago. Now "made in Japan" is a sign of the best there is in many product categories. With the hard work of federal employees, the phrase "good enough for government work" will mean the same. Already in many instances, government isn't just fixed, it's the best. Social Security's toll-free number is the best. The Air Combat Command's pharmacy is the best. The Consumer Product Safety Commission's hotline is the best. Business Week, Newsweek, the New York Times, and Financial World have noticed. For the first time, the Ford Foundation and the Kennedy School of Government will make prestigious awards to several federal agencies for their innovations.
If you haven't felt a difference yet, you will. This year. Many of the initiatives begun this past year are being expanded nationwide. The federal government will regain the faith of the American people, says President Clinton, "one customer at a time."
And we're pretty clear about what common-sense government means:
* It means a government that focuses on results, that moves heaven and earth to make it easy for all of us--citizens, businesses, and state and local governments--to meet the nation's common goals, instead of burying us in rules and punishing us when we can't figure out how to comply.
* It means a government that recognizes that we are its customers, works with us to understand our needs, and puts us first, not last.
* And it means getting our money's worth--a government that works better, faster, and cheaper than in the past, one that operates as well as, or better than, the best private businesses.
For two years, quietly but persistently, thousands of ordinary Americans--Americans who happen to work for the federal government--have been striving to change dramatically what the government does and how it does it. And folks who keep tabs on things--Business Week, Newsweek, The New York Times, and others--have been taking notice.
The New York Times calls it the "quiet revolution." It's pick-and-shovel work--hard, often tedious, but crucial. The plain fact is that if you want to change something big in a big way, you can't get by with a little light landscaping and a coat of paint. You have to excavate and renovate. And you can't do it overnight.
And progress is everywhere around us. In 1993, the Administration announced a goal to save $108 billion and cut 252,000 government jobs--especially administrative jobs that don't serve people directly--in five years. (Congress and the President later raised this last goal to 272,900.) Both tasks are ahead of schedule: savings locked into place total $58 billion (53 percent of the goal), and job reductions total more than 160,000 (60 percent of the goal). Of the 1,250 recommendations in the 1993 blueprint, 379 (30 percent) have been implemented, 214 (17 percent) require legislative action, and 657 (53 percent) are still in the pipeline. The Administration recently developed more than 180 additional recommendations that, when implemented, will result in $70 billion in new savings over the next five years. These savings have already been incorporated in President Clinton's balanced budget proposal.
In addition, President Clinton has issued 30 reinvention directives on customer service, agency streamlining, procurement reform, labor-management relations, cooperation and partnerships with state and local governments, paperwork reduction, and regulatory reform, among others. And Congress has passed 36 laws to implement reinvention recommendations.
This report, Common Sense Government: Works Better and Costs Less, is a report to the American people on the progress of the "quiet revolution" to reinvent the federal government--what it is, how it's going, and what it means for ordinary folks.
They said it couldn't be done...and it isn't.
Reinventing the federal government isn't an event. It isn't an Act of Congress or a Presidential Executive Order. Nor is it something you can accomplish with a swing of the budget axe.
Reinvention Rolls On!
In 1995 NPR worked with agencies to develop more than 180 new recommendations for improving agency programs and serving customers better. Some highlights of the recommendations include:
* Consolidate servicing of USDA's $30 billion single-family housing loan portfolio and close some county offices to save $250 million.
* Realign Small Business Administration operations to save $122 million and improve service by increasing public-private partnerships.
* Eliminate a layer of management in the Department of Health and Human Services by combining the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health with the Office of the Secretary.
* Merge the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Give Customers a Choice
* Shift HUD public housing funding directly to tenants, who can determine where they want live.
* Pay Department of Labor job training grants directly to workers rather than passing funds through states or private contractors.
Increase Local Control
* Increase the State role in the Superfund Program and decrease EPA's role, saving $283 million.
* Shift control of transportation-related spending from the Department of Transportation to the states.
* Eliminate Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Corps, saving $35 million.
* Shave $1.2 billion over five years from Energy's applied research programs, ending the Clean Coal
* Eliminate Interior's Office of Territorial and International Affairs, saving $5 million.
* Abolish the Interstate Commerce Commission, saving $129 million.
* Target Medicare Program abusers in five key states and develop a health care fraud fund to pay for investigations and prosecutions.
* Allow employees at large companies to file for Social Security benefits through their company's personnel office, to save $289 million.
* Improve debt collection practices at Treasury, Labor, and Education to increase revenues by more than $1 billion.
* Convert Connie Lee from a government corporation to a fully privatized entity.
* Shift NASA's space craft communications to private sources to save $200 million.
* Convert Sallie Mae from a government corporation to a fully privatized entity.
This effort to reinvent government, part of the ongoing National Performance Review, is becoming a way of life for employees in agencies and the customers they serve across the nation. It's like the job of painting the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The story goes that the task is so huge that by the time the painters get to the far end of the bridge, it's time to go back to the beginning and start again. It never stops. It's never "finished."
The world has become more complex, and so has our government. Yet even as the government has become more complicated, it has been slow to adapt to real changes in the world--particularly those changes driven by advances in technology and communication. Along the way, the government has become distant from the people it is supposed to serve and, occasionally, lost touch with what it was created to do nearly 220 years ago. Our nation began with a solemn covenant: that the government that we were establishing would be the people's servant--not their master.
We need to renew that covenant for the next century. That's what reinventing government is all about.
You are our customer.
If you've felt a difference, let us know. If you haven't, let us know that, too.
Write to: Vice President Al Gore