Management Systems and Structure

Just a few years ago, the front-line federal workers had more layers of supervisors than they could shake a stick at -- as much as they would like to. For example, a nurse in a government hospital would have had to communicate through a reporting chain of a dozen or more bosses before word reached the Cabinet Secretary -- and, of course, the Secretary would have to do the same to get an answer back. Remember that party game called "telephone," where a half dozen players lined up and whispered a simple message from one to the next? It invariably came out garbled. Imagine what twice as many players could do. Imagine a dozen or more layers of managers, not to mention their deputies and administrative assistants, transmitting that nurse's good idea about how to save money on, say, sphygmomanometers. Every new idea needed high-level approval.

By the way, that long line of managers was not just waiting to convey the front-line workers' ideas to the top boss. They were busy producing rules and regulations spelling every detail of what front-line workers should and should not do.

Back in 1993, when we began reinventing government, we discovered that one out of every three government employees was part of a network of micromanagement and overcontrol. They were headquarters staff, personnel, budget, procurement, audit, finance, or supervisors. One-third of our employees had been assigned to keep the other two-thirds from ever doing anything wrong. They were writing and promulgating internal rules, administering internal rules, and auditing compliance with internal rules. That occupied almost 700,000 workers, who cost taxpayers around $35 billion a year, plus office space and lots of paper.(11) But at least nothing ever went wrong. Right? Wrong!

Big headquarters and big rule books never have kept the government from making big mistakes. In fact, they often kept front-line workers from doing things right. So we asked agencies to cut layers of supervisors, headquarters staff, and other management control jobs by 50 percent. (12) Figure 3 shows what they have done so far.

Because we started offering buyouts and putting the brakes on hiring, the reductions have not been concentrated in management control positions to the extent the National Performance Review recommended. But 11 of the 27 largest agencies are at least halfway to the goal on supervisors, and eight have cut headquarters staff by 25 percent or more. In addition, certain bureaus and agencies within selected departments are also making big progress that is not reflected in their departments' overall figures. Overall, it is fair progress, but we still have a long way to go.

Numbers are not everything. Many bosses are changing the way they do their jobs -- encouraging innovation and customer service instead of just making workers toe the line. Many national and regional management organizations are taking on a new role whose primary job is support. Ultimately, we have to bring down the number of people in management jobs and headquarters, but the shift in attitude is every bit as important.

Figure 3: Streamlining Changes to Date: FYs 1993-1996

(in percentages)

Agency Percentage Change in the Number of:
SupervisorsHeadquarters Management Control
Staff Positions
Agency for International Development -3 -14 +5
Agriculture -21 -15 -11
Commerce -18 -20 -16
Defense (total) -16 -10 -8
Air Force -13 -8 -8
Army -14 -17 -8
Navy -19 -7 -8
Defense Agencies -19 -3 -8
Education -24 -12 -11
Energy -53 -27 -16
Environmental Protection Agency -38 -10 +4
Federal Emergency Management Agency -20 -22 +17
General Services Administration -28 -21 -18
Health and Human Services -29 -15 -11
Housing and Urban Deveiopment -37 -36 -17
Interior -29 -27 -32
Justice +4 -5 +9
Labor -19 -25 -17
National Aeronautics and Space Administration-40 -34-16
National Science Foundation -24 -18 +8
Office of Personnel Management -53 -65 -41
Small Business Administration -28 -28 -30
Social Security Administration -25 -23 -14
State -8 -7 -1
Transportation -22 -25 -17
Treasury -10 +4 +4
United States Information Agency -22 -15 -17
Veterans Affairs -28 -19 -6
Average -20 -14 -9

Note: OMB Circular No. A-11 (1995), sec. 15.4, pp. 47-48, contains the definitions of the job series included in each of these three categories. See also Appendix H.

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