Creating Quality Leadership and Management

Recommendations and Actions

Executive Summary

"The state of management in the federal government is not good," the General Accounting Office (GAO) concluded in 1992.(1) Also that year, in Managing the Federal Government: A Decade of Decline, the House Government Operations Committee found that, "first and foremost," executive branch management problems are caused by "the lack of leadership."(2)

Such criticism of federal management is not limited to specialists. More than four in five Americans think the federal government needs "fundamental change" or a "complete rebuilding," a May 1992 CBS poll showed. At the same time, the share of Americans who "trust the federal government all or most of the time" fell to 21 percent in 1993--from 76 percent in 1963.(3)

Sound leadership and strategic management are vital to any organization. Sound leadership at the top of an organization develops vision, values, and policy agendas, sets priorities among competing demands, and plans strategically. Strategic management aligns programs and management systems (e.g., personnel, budgeting, procurement) to support the vision and agenda, and ensures that these programs and systems are continuously improved to give better value to customers. The combination of sound leadership and strategic management is essential to driving and guiding major cultural change in an organization.

Managing for Results

Historically, the executive and legislative branches have tried to resolve management problems by extending and tightening the oversight, regulation, compliance, clearance, and review mechanisms of executive branch agencies and managers. However, this has not led to any lasting improvements. Under a reinvented system of executive branch governance, senior leaders would be involved in crucial leadership and management processes. This approach, known as "managing for results," has three components.

First, the President, working with his cabinet as a team, should create a sense of purpose and vision. These actions would, in turn, highlight the value of continuous improvements in management and in achieving results.

Second, to demonstrate and institutionalize this value, the President should order each agency head to designate a chief operating officer (COO)--a post for someone already in the agency, most often the Deputy Secretary, who would have line management responsibility.

Third, the President should create a cross-functional council--a President's Management Council--which would be composed of the COO's of major agencies. It would take the lead in reinventing programs and management systems to support the President's agenda. In addition, it would be responsible for creating the culture changes needed to put in place a management approach dedicated to ever-improving efficiency, effectiveness, and results.

"Managing for results" is founded on strategic management concepts, such as those in the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993, as well as quality concepts, such as those embodied in the Presidential Award for Quality and the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.(4)

Nations, such as Australia, and states, such as Oregon and Florida, have already adopted this approach. Now, in Washington, D.C., interest in adopting it at the federal level is spreading.

Lessons on Improving Performance

The federal government is learning how to manage for results and improve performance from the private sector. During the summer of 1993, numerous business leaders shared their experiences with the Vice President as he led the preparation of the National Performance Review (NPR) report. Studies, such as a 1991 GAO report, found that companies using quality management strategies achieved better employee relations, higher productivity, greater customer satisfaction, increased market share, and improved profitability.

A year later, GAO reported that 68 percent of federal agencies said they had started or were starting to implement quality management. A few agencies--such as the Internal Revenue Service, the Departments of the Navy, Air Force, and Army, Defense Information Systems Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and National Security Agency--have begun organizationwide efforts. Agencies that have moved beyond initial stages of quality management have enhanced customer satisfaction, organizational performance, and workforce excellence, GAO found.

The first step is education. Experience has shown that widespread training in an organization is crucial for using this approach effectively. All executive branch employees, starting with the President, Vice President, and cabinet members, should attend introductory education sessions, which should then cascade throughout all departments and agencies. The Federal Quality Institute (FQI) will work with the President, Vice President, Cabinet, and President's Management Council as facilitator, advisor, and coordinator to provide the needed institutional support. Fortunately, the executive branch already has much expertise in this area, but it must tap into and mobilize it. Centers of expertise within individual agencies also can provide needed support as well as create learning networks across the government.

Picking the Right People

Leadership and management, of course, cannot be improved without enlightened leaders and qualified managers. Long gone are the days when, experts believed, just anyone could fill a government job. With the government's huge size, budget, and complexity, the executive branch requires a tremendous amount of executive talent to lead and manage it. The President relies on a multi-tier system of political appointees and career executives to provide the required leadership and management.

In the seniormost ranks of government, political turnover is a major cause of absent leadership. Moreover, in the past, political appointments did not always match job requirements and, in choosing appointees, top leaders placed a higher premium on an individual's policy expertise than on their managerial qualifications. Senior career executives can provide some of the needed management continuity. However, due to political appointees' historic distrust of public servants, and the absence of a formal institutional talent pool, these career executives are not used as well as they could be.

"No modern administration has yet fully succeeded in developing a set of initial staffing procedures that are comprehensive, timely, or adequately related to the new President's immediate policy objectives," Assistant Comptroller General Lawrence Thompson observed in a 1991 hearing on the reasons for the ineffectiveness of government in serving the public.(5) One way of addressing this would be to develop a summary of qualifications needed for senior political positions as well as adequate training, especially in contemporary approaches to leadership and management.

Improving Legislative-Executive Relations

The Constitution establishes three branches of government: legislative, executive, and judicial. The first two have a symbiotic relationship. Congress enacts laws, authorizes and appropriates funds, and provides oversight of program accomplishment and compliance with laws. The executive branch executes programs and also provides internal oversight. A broad array of experts says Congress has become overly involved in executive branch functions and responsibilities, such as with too much detailed program direction and program oversight. Congress, however, responds that the executive branch appears unable to guarantee sound internal management. Regardless of who is right, the government and the country would benefit from a more collaborative relationship between the executive and legislative branches--without compromising the fundamental value of separation of powers. The President can work to enhance informal communications with lawmakers and staff and to reach agreement on ways to deal with management problems.


1. U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), General Management Issues, GAO/OGC-93-3TR (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Accounting Office [GAO], December 1992), p. 4.

2. U.S. Congress, House Committee on Government Operations, Managing the Federal Government: A Decade of Decline, Majority Staff Report (Washington, D.C., December 1992), p. 1.

3. University of Michigan data cited in Washington Post (August 23, 1993), p. A15.

4. Public Law 103-62, Aug. 3, 1993; also see Johnson, Kenneth, Beyond Bureaucracy: A Blueprint and Vision for Government that Works (Homewood, IL: Business One, Irwin, 1993).

5. See U.S. General Accounting Office, Service to the Public: How Effective and Responsive Is the Government?, GAO/T-HRD-91-26 (Washington, D.C.: GAO, May 8, 1991).

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