Culture Change


Catalysts of Reinvention

Beard's revolution (and the other cultural changes discussed in this chapter) puts the lie to the popular caricature of federal workers as lazy, incompetent bureaucrats. At the Bureau of Reclamation, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and other agencies, it was the systems of government that were broken. The burdensome and misguided rules and procedures kept leaders, managers, and front-line workers tied in red tape, unable to perform their jobs and fulfill their agencies' missions.

The workers? There was nothing wrong with them -- nothing, that is, that a dose of leadership and a healthy infusion of empowerment would not cure. After all, the same workers who had labored under these broken systems, earning the disdain of Americans far and wide, were the ones who either launched the effort at culture change or are now trying to institutionalize it. No longer "trapped in bad systems," as Vice President Gore puts it, they are now the very people who are "creating a government that works better and costs less."

But most federal workers, battered into submission by the longstanding rules that govern them, are understandably wary of reinvention. All too often, they have stuck out their necks, only to have their heads chopped off. What they need is a clear sign to think anew, to volunteer their ideas without fear of retribution. The sign can be as simple as Beard's forgiveness coupons -- or the "permission slips" that Education Secretary Richard W. Riley and Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown have issued (see illustration).

Spurred to action, government's reinventors are like scientists in a laboratory. They experiment, try out ideas, and adjust accordingly. Naturally, then, a big part of reinvention revolves around the "reinvention labs" that departments and agencies have created at Vice President Gore's suggestion.

From the Agriculture Department to the Pentagon, the General Services Administration to the Tennessee Valley Authority, federal agencies have designated about 135 programs and units as laboratories. They are trying to cut red tape, empower their workers, and cut costs, all with an eye on serving their customers better.

Four agencies (along with the Bureau of Reclamation) have taken the thrust of NPR most to heart -- the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Labor Department, the Customs Service, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. They have either transformed their organizations or taken several big steps along the way. ]


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