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National Partnership for Reinventing Government

From Red Tape to Results: Creating a Government That Works Better and Costs Less -- 1993

Vice President Gore led a task force that included about 250 career civil servants, a few state and local government employees, and several private sector consultants, including David Osborne, co- author of the book “Reinventing Government.” The task force was organized into two sets of teams. One set reviewed individual agencies. The other set focused on governmentwide systems – procurement, budget, personnel, etc. These teams were expected to produce recommendations for tangible improvements on the government’s services to the public.

The President also directed agencies to create their own internal reinvention teams that could work with NPR to develop other recommendations for improvements. In addition to these teams, Vice President Gore asked agency heads to create reinvention laboratories– units within agencies that would pilot innovations in service delivery. Reinvention laboratories were also granted waivers from internal agency rules to allow them the flexibility to be creative. This combination of centralized efforts to change basic systems, such as the procurement system, and directly involving frontline employees, such as the creation of reinvention labs, was a unique approach to government reform.

Vice President Gore personally led a series of town hall meetings in several dozen agencies to learn first-hand the problems facing employees. In June 1993, the Vice President also hosted a reinventing government summit at Constitution Hall in Philadelphia. He invited corporate executives, government leaders, and consultants who were leaders in organizational change. This summit provided a business perspective on reforming the government and business approaches to managing change. There, he learned the critical importance of moving quickly rather than incrementally in getting change to happen.

Strategically, the Vice President chose to focus efforts on how the government works, not on what it should be doing. In addition, he chose to target overhead costs, not the traditional approach of reorganizing existing agencies. NPR started its work in April 1993 with an inspiring set of principles and a clear vision of what it wanted to accomplish. The main objective was to create a government that works better and costs less by empowering employees to put customers first, cutting the red tape that holds back employees, and cutting back to basics.

The Vice President also told the NPR team that, where possible, recommendations be within the power of the executive branch, not proposals requiring statutory changes – and that recommendations for further studies were not acceptable. As a result, NPR chose to target overhead costs, not the organizational structure, of agencies. Working against a six-month deadline ensured the work was focused and not over-analyzed.

Before the original report was published, the Vice President met with agency heads to ensure their personal support for proposed recommendations. The Vice President understood that the success of reinvention could not be realized if the most senior-level officials weren’t supportive, regardless of NPR’s innovative ideas. He also met with President Clinton a number of times on selected proposals.

The Vice President formally presented the finished report to President Clinton on September 7, 1993 in a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House before the Cabinet, key members of Congress, and the NPR team against a symbolic backdrop of forklifts full of regulations NPR proposed eliminating. He said: “This report will tell us how to cut waste, cut red tape, streamline the bureaucracy, change procurement rules, change the personnel rules, and create a government that works better and costs less.” 2

The report, From Red Tape to Results: Creating a Government That Works Better and Costs Less, offered 384 major recommendations. The President committed his support to implement all of them, saying: “There are lots of places in this report where it says ‘the President should,’ ‘the President should.’ Well, let me tell you something, I’ve read it, and where it says ‘the President should,’ the President will.” 3

The report was based on 38 accompanying reports that detailed 1,250 specific actions intended to save $108 billion over a five year period by reducing the number of overhead positions, in areas such as management, procurement, financial management, etc. (see Appendix A for a list of all NPR publications). The Vice President said these efforts would begin the shift from an Industrial Age, hierarchical bureaucracy to an Information Age organization of fluid networks. He concluded that making real and lasting change in government would require years of concentrated effort. He said: “In a large corporation, transformation takes 6 to 8 years at best. In the federal government, which has more than 7 times as many employees as America’s largest corporation, it will undoubtedly take longer to bring about the historic changes we propose.” 4

Shortly after releasing the report, most of the task force members returned to their home agencies. About 50 staff remained to start implementing over-arching initiatives including customer service, reinvention laboratories, streamlining headquarters functions, and staffing cross-agency councils. Initially, the staff thought that laying out the implementation strategy would take three to six months. However, the Vice President was determined that this report would not “wind up on some dusty bookshelf.” As a result, the task force designated a champion for each of the 1,250 action items to be responsible for implementation of that item, with a status report on progress submitted to NPR every six months.

The report was one of the first government documents posted on the Internet, and within days over 100,000 copies had been downloaded. The report quickly headed the New York Times best sellers list. Max Dupree, a popular business book author, called it “the best book on management available in America.” 5 A leading political scientist, James Q. Wilson, said, “In my judgement, the Gore Report is the best White House statement I have ever read about what citizens really want from government administrators and how, in theory, that can be delivered.” 6 In December 1993, the General Accounting Office announced that it disagreed with only one of NPR’s 384 recommendations.7

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