Welcome Aboard "Access America"
Senior Policy Advisor to the Vice President and
Director, National Partnership for Reinventing Government
Access America Conference
San Francisco, CA
January 21, 1998
Good morning. My esteemed colleagues, Dave Barram and Karen Freeman, have told you WHAT Access America is and WHO Access America is. Throughout the rest of the day you will hear HOW to make smart use of information technology. So it falls to me to tell you . . .WHY.
First of all, I should tell you that the National Performance Review is undergoing it's own reinvention. We have settled on a new vision statement:
"America@OurBest." The @ sign is a clear signal of how important we think Information Technology will be in achieving that vision. It is literally central to our task. And, yes, the "our best" means that we think that America's future is brighter than our past, the best is yet to come.
America is entering a new economic age built around information that rewards speed and agility, not size and mass. While my hometown is just beginning the movie awards season, let me use a popular movie as a metaphor for the kind of challenge I am talking about.
The ocean liner "Titanic" was a supreme expression of the machine age. It was the biggest, fastest, and safest floating machine that man could make. In keeping with the industrial tradition, it didn't just have a hierarchical staff from a captain on down, it even had a "top-down" passenger organization with the first class in opulent splendor and the lower classes in steerage at the bottom of the boat. I don't know about you, but I'm sure that my relatives would have been right next to the propellers.
The Titanic made one small nod to the technology of its day; it had a radio room with two telegraphers. Sadly, that wasn't enough. The technology was imperfect, and the radio team in the nearest ship decided to shut down early that evening.
Today we face a similar dilemma. The federal government remains largely an expression of the industrial age --mammoth, hierarchical, and limited in its information technology. To many of us it appears that our titanic ship of state, the "USS Bureaucracy," is on a dangerous collision course. If the ship doesn't change direction, it will hit an iceberg. Strangely, that iceberg isn't made of ice. It's a gigantic paper iceberg, frozen hard with regulation and indifference. If you have ever had a paper cut, you know that a paper iceberg could sink a boat, easy.
Our task, as federal employees and informed citizens, is not to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. Our task is to change course and to reengineer the "USS Bureaucracy". . .in the middle of the ocean. Our new vessel will be called the "USS Access America."
And what will that reengineered ship be like? Well, it will still have a captain and a crew. But because the seas around the ship are changing so rapidly, the captain will have dispensed with much of the middle management in the officer corps. Instead the Captain and the crew will work out what teams and team leaders they need to meet the ever-changing conditions at sea. And they will constantly feed each other new ideas. That's because the technology on board will enable all hands to communicate with all other hands without needing the "filter" of middle management.
Ironically, even on the original Titanic, it was frontline workers who had to look for icebergs. Middle management was cozily inside gazing at charts and ignoring telegrams from other ships warning of ice fields ahead. The problem was that the frontline workers on the Titanic didn't have the tools to do the job properly. The binoculars for the crow's nest were misplaced somewhere between London and Dublin. Nevertheless, the owner of the boat, Bruce Ismay, wanted "full speed ahead" to set a record in getting to New York, and the captain agreed. And because the captain agreed, so did middle management.
How many times in your career have felt like a crewmember on the Titanic? You're stuck up a mast, freezing your eyeballs and other parts of your anatomy, looking for danger and wishing that the "blankety-blanks" in charge would either slow down the boat or get you better equipment so you could do your job properly? But nooooooo. Mr. Ismay wants to get to New York. And he did --yes, Ismay took a seat in the life boats.
On the "Access America" things will run differently. In Detroit today, frontline workers can stop the automobile assembly line whenever they detect a flaw or any other kind of problem. Quality is job one, for everyone. The same approach will prevail on Access America. Information technology will make the progress of the ship and the safety of the ship everyone's responsibility. There won't be a reliance on multiple forms to report a problem. And employees will be empowered to get the right tools to do the right job without piles of paperwork. From the frontline workers on up --everyone will have will have responsibility for the quality of the voyage.
Quality basically consists in doing the right thing the right way. For a reinvented government, the right thing means achieving "results Americans care about." Americans care about easier access to government. They care about better service in getting their mail, their passports, and their driver's licenses. They care about safe streets, safe food, better medicines, and better schools. And they hope that one day they could pay their taxes without feeling like they're paying for an overbloated, inefficient government.
I'm sure that all the things I just mentioned are results Americans care about the government achieving. But they're more than just a list of generalities. Businesses stay in business by giving their customers what they want. Not "generally" what they want. "Specifically" what they want. And the only way to achieve that is --hold on to your hats --to ask them. And then, THEY TRY TO GIVE THEM SPECIFICALLY WHAT THEY WANT.
One of the major initiatives of the NPR this year will be to launch a survey of the American people --in partnership with the OMB --to find out what results Americans care about. And we will share those results, so you can do your own surveys.
We need to find out what our customers want because the most terrifying thing about information technology is that it's fast. That means you can use it to do the wrong thing --very, very fast. Multiply your mistake quadrillion-fold in no time. And really tick off the public. You can also use old-fashioned technology to do the right thing --very, very slowly. So you do the right thing for one person an hour, and really tick off the rest of the public while they are on hold, or standing on line, or whatever.
We need to get used to a new idea. While the "USS Bureaucracy" was lumbering along, other boats were being built. In the mid-70's, government spent $30 billion on police protection at every level, twice what was expended on private security. Today those ratios are reversed, for every tax dollar the government spends, citizens spend two dollars trying to protect themselves. If the American public want safe streets, they will get them, with or without the government. Or rather, the Americans who can afford to purchase safe streets in protected communities will get them.
I know that police protection is largely a local matter, but do you really think that Freddy and Frieda Taxpayer bother to distinguish between federal and state and county and local government? It's all just "the government" to them --and, remember, in the information age, the customer is always right. If you think that means that all of us at every level of government have to learn to work together as an efficient, seamless whole --you're right. Even in terms of better police protection, information technology makes it possible for "real time" criminal dossiers being available all the way from the FBI to Barney Fife at the Mayberry Police Department.
Another example is mail service. There are cigarette boats, two of them are called "The Fed EX" and "The UPS," that have taken over some of the post office's business. When Americans want a package delivered absolutely, positively overnight --they will get it delivered with or without the government.
By the way, I mean no slur on the Post Office, they have done a remarkable job in improving their delivery times. But competition and information technology had something to do with it.
My meaning I hope is clear, if we don't start a conversation with our customers and use that information to reinvent and reengineer government --RIGHT NOW --then maybe there won't be much of a government left in pretty short order. The private sector is ready, willing and able to take over many of our functions. And because the private sector runs on a pay-as-you-go basis, that kind of America with pretty much of a non-government might consist of protected communities, Fed-Ex mail, and private schools for some and less for the rest of us. Not exactly America@ItsBest.
Let me close with an observation that--rather than worrying about how you can save your job in the present bureaucracy--you should talk to your customers and reinvent and reengineer you, your job, your company, and your agency. Just as IBM, Sears, and GM have successfully turned around their companies, so can we turn around our ship of state. And with that focus you, the government, and this America we love will safely sail into the information age.
Of course, you knew all these things already. That is WHY you're here. So I really didn't need to say them, except to remind you that is WHY you're here.
So, welcome aboard "Access America," where we all work together using information technology, to achieve the results Americans care about. Together we will be "America@OurBest." Thank you.
For more information, contact Tom Flavin, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone: (202) 632-0150.