National Partnership for Reinventing Government


Remarks by NPR Director Morley Winograd
Women Executives in State Government Leadership Conference
Washington, D.C.
February 19, 1999

It is an honor to be here today before the Women Executives in State Government and to share with you some ideas on how and why this administration, under the leadership of Vice President Gore, has focused on this subject of Reinventing Government. I hope that by the time we have finished talking together we will generate some new ways we can work together to improve people's trust in government and what it can accomplish. That is, after all, what reinventing government is all about.

At 2 p.m. on January 21st - just a month ago - the superintendent of the local Beebe, Arkansas high school was sitting in his office when his NOAA Weather Radio sounded an alarm, alerting him of a tornado watch for the area. He tuned into a local TV station to monitor the weather situation. Around 4:30 p.m., he consulted with the athletic director of the school about canceling the basketball game that evening. Since the visiting team was already en route to the school, they decided to go ahead with the game.

The superintendent continued to monitor the weather as the game began. About 2,000 students and parents were in the gym. At halftime - around 7 p.m. - the superintendent again consulted with the athletic director and, because of further NOAA weather warnings, they decided to cancel the game and send the students and parents to safe havens.

At 7:36 p.m. a tornado tore through Beebe, completely obliterating the gym. No one was at the site to be injured. All of the children avoided a terrible disaster. How did that happen?

The emergency alert system was broadcast courtesy of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Agency, an agency within the Federal government's Department of Commerce. The school purchased the NOAA weather radio with Hazard Mitigation Funds provided by FEMA. The broadcast towers could have been funded by state or federal appropriations, depending on the location. But it was the entire warning system that saved lives. And not one of the parents of the children stopped to ask or cared to know if it was the federal, state or local government that saved their kid's life. Nor should they. Nor should they have to worry about the boundaries that might prevent such coordination in the future or in some o ther location.

Now let me show you a map of the United States showing where these weather towers are currently located. Notice the more rural the area the less likely there is to be such a system. Unfortunately, the state with the least coverage is Kansas. Don't they have a lot of tornadoes there or am I in the land of OZ?

How could we have ever designed a government more concerned about turf than serving citizens? And now that we have, what is there to be done about it?

First of all, we have to refocus government on caring about its customers. That is why one of the first Executive Orders that President Clinton signed on the subject of reinventing government asked each agency to develop customer friendly programs to improve our service. This EO was followed up with a series of directives that led to the establishment of over 4000 customer service standards in over 400 federal agencies, all posted on the web for you to see. Furthermore, each agency has been directed to conduct conversations with their customers, we call it "Conversations with America" to determine what their customers expect from them. They are also required to have a customer feedback process in place and to use what they learn from both of these programs to impact the programs and projects that they now must submit annually as a "performance plan" for their agency.

Let me tell you one insight from the kind of conversations we are having. Maybe two, time permitting. The first concerns the IRS. They did a survey of customer requirements as part of the larger reorganization that many of you may have heard about. Before they did the survey their customer service pride was focused on the fact that every year every citizen who had filed a tax form the year before received a set of forms from the IRS the first business day of the new year. The IRS was shocked, shocked I tell you, to discover from this survey that people did not actually appreciate having their new year and holiday week end ruined with a not-so-subtle reminder from the government that their taxes were due. Especially since they could do nothing with the form for at least another month when they received their W2 and other tax information. So what did the customers want from the IRS? To have as little contact as possible, thank you. Now what do you do with that? What Commissioner Rossotti did was to significantly increase the ability of people to file their taxes electronically, either over the net or by telephone so fewer and fewer people had to deal with the forms or the IRS. It's just part of his totally customer oriented mission statement for the IRS:

"Provide America's taxpayers top quality service by helping them understand and meet their tax responsibilities and by applying the tax law with integrity and fairness to all."

So if the IRS can do it, so can you. The other story that I wanted to tell you didn't have to do with the federal government. It's a story from Oregon. Is anyone here from Oregon? (If so, please keep me honest here and tell me if I heard the story right.) They asked their DMV or driver's license customers what did they like the least about doing business with them. Before they did the survey they thought it was the long lines people had to wait in and they had expended some resources in shortening those lines in a variety of ways. But what the survey showed was....the PICTURE on the damn license. People hated to have to look at it for four years every time someone asked them for their ID. By changing the way the photographs were taken, backlighting and all, Oregon was able to significantly improve what people thought of the performance of state government generally. And that increased trust for many other programs and goals the state had.

So customer service is a key part of our effort to reinvent government. But when we started this process we didn't start with the customer. We started with the employee. Vice President Gore went out and asked each agency to assemble as many people as they could to tell them why we wanted to reinvent government and what our goals were. Our mission then was to create a government that "works better and costs less." Today we would add, "and gets results that Americans care about", such as saving kid's lives in Beebe, Arkansas. Now saving money sounded like downsizing to a lot of government employees. And they were right. Today the federal government is about 16% smaller than when the Vice President began this exercise. The workforce is smaller by 365,000 full time equivalencies (FTEs), 45,000 in the last year alone. But that downsizing was accomplished with the total cooperation of the people who work in the government, including their union representatives. How did that happen? Because we involved the employees every step of the way. We made sure that the ideas we put forward to make government work better were their ideas. And we made sure that when we made government cost less we did so in a way that respected the needs and dignity of each employee.

We think that is a key reason why today the National Partnership for Reinventing Government stands as the most successful and longest running effort at federal government in our nation's history. It has saved $137 billion so far and eliminated 250 outdated programs along with 16,000 pages of regulation. Our procurement reform legislation passed with bipartisan support by the Congress has won an "A" for effectiveness from the Brookings Institution and saved over $12 billion on its own. But we are far from finished with modernizing our government.

Let me return to that schoolhouse in Arkansas and the problem of inter-governmental cooperation. One way to solve that problem would be to reorganize. Move the boxes around on the chart. Consolidate or eliminate departments. It's a great PR play. But the private sector has discovered that you can use up a lot of time and resources doing it without really changing anything, and often making the situation worse. The problem is if you don't change the underlying culture, the way people do things, you aren't likely to see any improvement in results. How do you change culture? You do so by changing the conversation.

That is what we did with our customer satisfaction and employee involvement activities. We got people to stop talking about budgets and rules and regulations and turf and start talking about something that mattered to the average citizen. One key to that change in conversation was the passage in 1993 of the Government Performance and Results Act. This legislation required every government agency to develop a five-year strategic plan that described the outcomes it hoped to achieve. And they were also required, as I mentioned before, to put together, as part of the budgeting process, an annual plan stating the performance improvement targets they were prepared to make towards accomplishing those long run outcomes. But these measurements couldn't be based on activities or inputs, they had to be based on outputs and outcomes. And that's a different conversation.

Just last month the Vice-President announced our intention to seek support in Congress for a significant change in our Civil Service law. We want managers to be paid for performance not survival. And we want to define that performance based on the goals of their agency's GPRA plans, along with those other two key measures-customer satisfaction and employee empowerment. That will place this whole approach of reinventing government into the daily lives of every worker in the government. And that is key to reaching our goal of completely transforming how government works.

But as I mentioned, that won't get the job done by itself. Culture and conversation is key. So too is process improvement and technology. Let me give you one example for each of those items and then open this up to conversation. Lets start with technology. We want to create E.Government in the long run, just like the electronic commerce world that is exploding all around us. By giving people direct access to their government services we can certainly save money and at the same time make government work better. One way we got started was to create a web site just for local and state governments and their employees to help them find out how to jump over all the boundaries and turf in the federal government.

The U.S. State and Local Gateway is a one-stop electronic link to federal information for state and local officials and employees, and for federal employees who work with states and localities. It involves 17 agencies working as partners with NPR. Let me give you the web Now that's all you need to know to find all the federal information you've ever wanted.

With the Gateway, state and local employees can now quickly obtain information they need. Users no longer need to spend hours learning to decipher the federal bureaucracy and conduct separate searches within each individual agency.

The Gateway arranges information by subject, making it easier to jump fences and find the information you are looking for and the agencies working on it quickly and efficiently. The gateway sorts subjects into 11 categories of federal information that is most in demand. It also identifies several crosscutting topics relevant to all subject areas -- funding, grants, laws and regulations, contacts, and best practices.

A user of the new State and Local Gateway can click on "Emergencies and Disasters," for example, and get information not only from FEMA, but many other agencies. For example:

  • information on tax relief after disasters and how to redeem mutilated money - Treasury Department;
  • small business and home loans after disasters - SBA and HUD;
  • structural support and dam safety - the Army Corps of Engineers;
  • animals in emergencies and food assistance - USDA;
  • chemical spills and other pollution emergencies - EPA and Energy;
  • law enforcement assistance - Justice, Defense, and the National Guard.
This is just an example of what is being done. The results are extraordinary - for both the managers of disaster relief after tornadoes like the one in Arkansas, and for the public. When a disaster such as a tornado or earthquake hits - the destruction and public fear can be overwhelming. It is essential that government agencies operate seamlessly in times like that, but we also need to change the way we operate when it isn't a disaster, but the calamity is just as real. I'm talking about the well being of our nation's children.

All of our children deserve to grow up healthy, secure and able to realize their full potential. A few years ago NPR identified the key indicators of the health and well being of our nation's kids. Things like immunization rates, reading scores, teen-age pregnancy levels. Now we want to take that learning and translate it into a cooperative program between cities, states and the federal government to move the numbers in the right direction. We call it BOOST 4 KIDs because that's the result we want to produce. Vice President Al Gore has created a team at NPR to work with innovative local and State partners to minimize administrative barriers and maximize how resources are used to get the best results for children. Those communities committing to moving the numbers will get the freedom to accomplish those goals the way they want, and be able to keep the dollars from the federal government that they don't spend due to administrative savings, so long as they spend it on further improving the children's welfare.

We are seeking to form up to 10 performance partnerships with state and local governments that are working together to enhance positive outcomes for children, youth, and families. Boost for Kids will work with them to reinvent how programs are administered to give people at the local level greater flexibility to improve the lives of all of their children. These partnerships will permit leading local and state partners to work together with federal representatives to:

  • Manage for results for children;
  • Streamline administration;
  • Address barriers at the federal, State and local levels--in ways allowable under current law--to better provide needed services and supports for children;
  • Maximize the use of resources for services for children; and
  • Share lessons with other communities.
If you want to become one of those ten pilot partnerships, contact Pamela Johnson at 202-694-0011 or visit our NPR website . And if you would like to make sure every school in your state, and for that matter every home in your neighborhood, has access to that National Weather Radio emergency broadcast system, you should speak to Marci Hilt who is here with us today or call her at 694-0089. The program could use the money and a family's life could well be at stake. And if you would like to learn more about what we do and how we do it, visit our web site at

Hopefully this gives you some sense of what our program to reinvent government is all about. Making it more efficient using the latest in technology and process improvements. Making it work better by listening to our customers and our workers and then taking all that knowledge and making sure it is used to get results people care about. Our goal is one I hope we all share: to improve trust in government and preserve our democratic form of self-government.

I look forward to continuing this conversation with you today and in the future.

Now, for more details on how you can reinvent government on a state level and what partnerships are out there, I'd like to open a conversation.

NPR Home Page Search the NPR Site NPR Initiatives Site Index Calendar Comments Awards Links Tools Frequently Asked Questions Speeches News Releases Library Navigation Bar For NPR site