Progress Report-Chapter 2


Change at the Top

In a new vision statement published in January 1994, the IGs wrote, "We are agents of positive change striving for continuous improvement in our agencies" management and program operations, and in our own offices." [18] The IGs" reinvention principles talk about working with agency heads and Congress as well as building relationships with program managers.

The IGs' action points up another surprising phenomenon about federal reinvention. Generally, management gurus preach that to change an organization's culture, don't entrust the job to keepers of the old culture. At the federal level, that would include the symbols of the old guard: the Office of Personnel Management, General Services Administration, and Office of Management and Budget. (For a discussion of GSA and OMB, see the next chapter.)

The gurus may have to rethink their ideas -- about federal managers, anyway. "You proved them wrong," the Vice President told OPM's employees in July. "Because the men and women of OPM changed everything, and you changed it fast." [19]

Three accomplishments stand out: [20]

  1. Scrapping the Federal Personnel Manual, a 10,000-page behemoth of rules -- nearly 10 times bigger than the Bible (Old and New Testaments included) and five times the size of an unabridged dictionary.

    "The dinosaur is officially fossilized and is going away," OPM Director James B. King announced in January as he took the helm of a wheelbarrow into which OPM employees had thrown parts of the manual. [21] It was a dramatic ceremony. In the lobby of OPM's main building, King held the wheelbarrow. In front of him was a three-member fife and drum corps. Alongside were OPM employees, personnel officials from other agencies, and union officials who carried pieces of the manual. They marched outside and threw it into a waiting recycling truck.

    The ceremony seemed fitting for an event of this long-term significance, which OPM accomplished a year ahead of NPR's schedule. Here, after all, was the document that, for the last half-century, instructed government managers and personnel specialists on the tiniest details of their jobs. No longer will these federal supervisors be subjected to a manual that dedicated a whole chapter to telling them how to label their file folders.

    Immediately, the manual's demise will save federal agencies money. Its 610 subscribers, most of whom were agencies, paid $1,333 a year, plus up to $300 for each of 14 supplements. In one fell swoop, OPM scrapped 86 percent of the manual's pages. The other 14 percent will remain in existence for the rest of 1994, after which some will be repackaged as government wide regulations or handbooks.

    Such large-scale change is part of OPM's effort to turn over such personnel strategies as recruiting, testing, and hiring workers to the agencies and assume a kind of consulting role for them. To further that transformation, the Administration plans to send Congress legislation to reform the civil service.

  2. Eliminating, next January 1, the infamous Standard Form 171, the imposing government job application form that prospective clients had to fill out, and that discouraged many good people from even applying for federal work.

    It's not hard to figure out why King, a widely experienced federal, state, and local official before coming to OPM in April 1993, wanted to kill the 171; he needed three days to fill one out. When the 6-foot, 4-inch King unveiled his 171 at a public event in April, it "stretched from above his head to his feet, with a few pages to spare." [22]

    Not every federal worker faced such a lengthy application process. But the 171, in use since 1938, remained an archaic instrument of employment; job applicants took an average of eight hours to fill them out, while agencies needed 90 minutes to read and process each one. The 171 sought general information about the applicant and specific information about availability; military service; work experience; special skills, accomplishments, and rewards; references; and history of criminal and related problems. The form was so complicated that it spawned an industry of career counselors and other employment specialists to help applicants through it.

    Not surprisingly, it also discouraged many highly qualified individuals from seeking federal employment. As Vice President Gore put it recently, "For many, it was their first dose of red tape. It was almost like saying to somebody who wanted to come to work for the federal government, "Welcome to the fun house." [23]

    In its place, agencies will seek basic information from applicants, who will be able to use their resumes and should need no more than an hour to complete the process. Agencies" computer scanners will read 1,500 applications per hour. Also, OPM has created an automated phone system that enables anyone with a touch-tone phone or a PC and modem to learn -- at any time, day or night -- about almost any federal job available and how to apply. Job-hunters can even apply for some jobs by phone.

  3. Implementing the buyout legislation with unusual speed -- skipping the steps of publishing proposed and final regulations, giving agencies the flexibility to apply the law to their specific situations, and serving as a clearinghouse about the best approaches.

    Even before Congress passed the buyout bill, an OPM team was using an electronic bulletin board to distribute information to agencies and answer their questions. The same team now works as a clearinghouse. Due to OPM's quick action, 14,670 people in non-defense agencies were able to take the buyout this year, giving agencies the room to begin their restructuring, to cut costs, to eliminate management layers, and to avert layoffs.

    More broadly, OPM is using the bulletin board and coordinating multi-agency satellite broadcasts to provide forums to discuss best practices with personnel specialists from all over government. The broadcasts, hosted by such agencies as the Defense, Agriculture, and Transportation Departments, help the specialists share information about labor-management partnerships, the automation of personnel systems, and the new role of federal managers.


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