Still to Do: Lots More


Still to Do: Lots More

I find the greatest thing in the world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.

Oliver Wendell Holmes

This status report has described the first year's progress of the President, Congress, departments and agencies, and federal workers in implementing NPR's recommendations. Much has been accomplished, but no one doubts that there's a long way to go. Other large organizations have found that real cultural change takes eight to 10 years. The federal government won't get it done much faster.

As the reinventing government effort moves into its second year, big challenges remain. The following is a preview:

Streamline federal agencies. In responding to last year's report, From Red Tape to Results, federal employees as well as the public focused much of their attention on NPR's call for personnel cuts. But personnel cuts were inevitable under any Administration--even more so under an Administration as serious about deficit reduction as is the Clinton Administration. NPR has a much bigger challenge than that of cutting the workforce. Its challenge is to cut personnel and improve service at the same time.

The key: cutting in the places where government is expending too much effort for only a marginal contribution--or even worse, a negative contribution--to the public good. That means the multiple layers of government, large number of headquarters staff, and divisions devoted to micromanagement. Such streamlining is hard work, much harder than the simple task of cutting everything equally across the board. And yet, it's the only way to fulfill not only the "costs less" portion of NPR's mandate but the "works better" pledge as well.

Conduct more serious reengineering of work processes. Before long, any serious student of the federal government discovers agencies that seem plagued by problems that persist from administrator to administrator, from secretary to secretary, indeed from President to President. For too long, the nation has blamed these chronic problems on people rather than on the real culprit--systems.

NPR needs to encourage and support large, fundamental reengineerings. Some are under way. With a long history of backlogs in its disability system, the Social Security Administration recently completed a bold plan to restructure its disability claims process. The Defense Department has piloted a radically streamlined travel authorization process that, when applied department wide, should save $1 billion.

Across the government, more agencies need to undertake similar exercises. The Federal Aviation Administration needs to modernize its air traffic control operations. The Food Safety and Inspection Service needs to become a science-based agency. Federal law enforcement agencies need to develop collaboration strategies. The nation needs to stop blaming people and start looking at systems, especially where the problems seem to outlast the people.

Improve service delivery to the people. This task involves not just delivering on the government's customer service commitments, crucial as they are. It involves changing the grants system to give state and local governments more flexibility to focus on achieving measurable results. It involves creating partnerships across agencies and across levels of government to achieve better results. It involves using information technology to improve services to the public.

In the past decade, the gap between the customer service that Americans experience in the private sector and what they experience int. public sector has grown. That gap, in turn, has helped to generate more cynicism about government. The government needs to start closing the gap.

Educate every federal employee. Despite what most federal workers have heard, NPR is not just about streamlining. Its more compelling message is about putting customers first, about empowering employees, and about cutting red tape. Much hard work lies ahead in teaching federal workers how to reach these goals--in essence, how to reinvent government. NPR needs to mobilize every training resource available to the federal government, including the Federal Quality Institute, the Federal Executive Institute, and agency trainers.

Reform the civil service system. To create a flexible federal government that's dedicated to continuous improvement, the government needs a personnel system that can accommodate a new, reinvented government while preserving the principles of the merit system that have served this country so well. The President and Congress must take legislative action to create this new system. In NPR's second year, the President will propose such legislation and urge Congress to act upon it.

Shift the government's focus to measuring results, rather than controlling inputs. No government can sustain itself for long without a strong system of accountability to its legislative branch and its citizens. But the old methods of accountability have often served to tie up the government in endless reams of useless and expensive red tape. As the government rids itself of the old systems, it needs to replace them with new, stronger systems of accountability.

Congress recognized this need when it passed the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993. The President signed it in August 1993, and the Vice President urged, as part of NPR, that the government speed up its implementation. This act, and the performance agreements that the President has been signing with the heads of major agencies, will help to create a new mode of accountability--one that measures results rather than inputs.

Those who have been working on this issue harbor no illusions about how difficult this transformation will be. They will need all the help they can get--from academics, from government employees, and from legislators--to create meaningful measures of government performance. But only a system of outcome-based accountability will free up government workers to do their jobs.

In the next year, agencies will be pursuing scores of other important initiatives that will help to reinvent the federal government. This process must not end. Government owes it to the American people to see that it continues.

As President Clinton exhorted federal workers this past summer,

Put people first. They're your customers. Design your systems to please the people you serve. Let them measure your success. Give their government back to them.



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