1994 Status Report


Not Sitting on a Shelf

It was a hot, sunny day on the South Lawn of the White House last September when the Vice President, standing before forklifts of personnel, budget, and procurement manuals, submitted the 168-page report to President Clinton and said,

The National Performance Review is about change. It will get us moving from red tape to results. It will result in a customer service contract with the American people, one that demonstrates to taxpayers that their tax dollars will be treated with respect for the hard work that earned them.[2]

The report was more than a description of new procedures, presidential directives, and legislative proposals. It was a call to arms for federal employees; a challenge to the entire federal government; and a promise of something better for government's customers--the American people. It was, in fact, the first leg of a long but exciting journey, one inspired by the onset of the information age and other global technological changes. As successful businesses have learned, the demands that any large organization now faces require that it replace top-down, command-and-control structures with leaner, flatter structures that empower workers, respond to customers, and strive to make better products.

Among journalists, scholars, and the public, reaction to the report was overwhelmingly positive. In September alone, the report climbed aboard the New York Times bestseller list, two publishers reprinted it, and more than 100,000 copies were downloaded from the Internet computer network.[3] Max DePree, author of the popular Leadership is an Art, called it "the best book on management available in America."[4] In December, the General Accounting Office announced that it disagreed with only one of NPR's 384 recommendations.[5]

Still , skeptics voiced doubts. Hadn't the nation tried this before, they asked. Yes, to some extent, it had. Indeed, as Defense Secretary William J. Perry put it earlier this year,

Many people have vowed to reform the government, but after they start that undertaking they mysteriously disappear, never to be heard from again. It's as if they had decided to take a vacation in Jurassic Park."[6]

More important than the contents of any report is the follow-through. Previously, even the government's best reports on reform gathered dust on shelves. But, in putting Vice President Gore in charge, the President signaled the importance with which he viewed not just the report, but its implementation. As he noted in a March 1994 White House ceremony:

Here's the most important reason why this report is different from earlier ones on government reform. When Herbert Hoover finished the Hoover Commission, he went back to Stanford. When Peter Grace finished the Grace Commission, he went back to New York City. But when the Vice President finished his report, he had to go back to his office--20 feet from mine--and go back to working to turn the recommendations into reality. [7]

Still, the Administration's commitment should not blind Americans to the magnitude of the task. If nothing else, the sheer size of the federal government makes the task of reinventing it huge. Overall, federal spending exceeds 23 percent of the economy. The Departments of Health and Human Services, Defense, and the Treasury each spend nearly three times annually what America's largest corporation, General Motors, [8] takes in revenue.

Moreover, reinventing government is unlike other Administration initiatives. It does not begin and end with one piece of legislation; nor can the Administration declare victory by winning one up- or-down vote in Congress. It is, rather, a process of continuous improvement, one expected to last for more than a decade.

Because of significant deficit reductions that President Clinton pressed in his first year, the federal government will operate in an environment of unprecedented fiscal stringency for the foreseeable future. In this environment, NPR provides the management principles through which the government can do better with less--that is, provide the services Americans want more efficiently and effectively. Only by doing so can government earn back the trust of Americans.

Underlying much of this effort are thousands of federal workers. They have worked in teams and alone, pushing new ideas and reviving old ones that were long ago ignored. As you will see in the following pages, their stories are heart- warming--and sometimes more than a little humorous. Most of all, they inspire hope about the future.

Their progress is captured in the ensuing sections of this report:

"Culture Change: Reinventing the Federal Government" looks at the few agencies that have turned their structures and processes upside down and, as a result, transformed themselves into entirely new organizations.

"Progress Report" discusses the government's progress in pursuing NPR's four main themes: putting customers first, empowering employees to get results, cutting red tape, and cutting back to basics.


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