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National Partnership for Reinventing Government

Reinvention in the Second Clinton-Gore Administration: Changing The Culture of Government Agencies -- 1997-2001

At the beginning of President Clinton's second term in January 1997, NPR shifted its approach in an effort to accelerate changes in government and spread reinvention. In the first Administration, the task force had focused on encouraging hundreds of frontline teams to reinvent their departments or a certain part of the government. However, by 1997, NPR decided it was necessary to shift the focus of reinvention toward the transformation of entire agencies instead of only select portions -- especially in those agencies with direct impact on the public. This new focus was intended to permanently imbed reinvention in the day-to-day operations of the government.

The Blair House Papers. To signal this new approach, the President and Vice President spoke to the new Cabinet in its first meeting in January 1997 about the “rules of the road for reinvention” that they should follow. These were summarized in The Blair House Papers, a collection of practical “rules” for reinvention success. The Blair House Papers included the most successful change techniques developed during the first term for agencies to use to further reinvention. These tools were organized around delivering great service, fostering partnership and community-based solutions, and using reinvention to get the job done with less. Copies were placed in the hands of every political appointee and senior executive.

Access America. In early 1997, NPR built upon its earlier recommendations to use technology to transform government by issuing a new set of commitments. This report, Access America: Reengineering Through Information Technology, laid out a series of actions to “serve the public on its own terms” and give agencies tools to operate an electronic government. Working with the Government Information Technology Services Board and the Chief Information Officers Council, NPR co-sponsored several dozen task teams to act on the commitments laid out in the report. The report led to statutory changes, for example on electronic benefits transfers and electronic signatures, as well as administrative changes, such as Presidential directives on training and transactions-on-line.

High Impact Agencies. NPR focused on 32 agencies designated as “High Impact Agencies.” They were selected for concentrated efforts to transform their performance, even in the face of reduced budgets. These agencies were chosen based on their high degree of interaction with the public, business, or their operational impact on other federal agencies. These 32 High Impact Agencies employed 1.4 million of the 1.8 million civil servants in the federal system. Among these agencies were: the Internal Revenue Service, the Social Security Administration, the Weather Service, the Customs Service, the Park Service, the Patent and Trademark Office, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Food and Drug Administration. (see Appendix E for list).

The leaders of the High Impact Agencies committed to more than 250 specific improvements in services to the public, which were to be completed by the end of fiscal year 2000. Their specific reinvention commitments were included in the President’s fiscal year 1999 Budget. By December 2000, these agencies reported that 96 percent of their goals had been met or would be met in early 2001.

An example of NPR's work with one of these agencies was the 1997 joint task force NPR sponsored with IRS employees and managers to revamp that agency’s operations to dramatically improve customer service. NPR's recommendations to this group contributed to significant legislative changes that were still driving major innovations at that organization at the end of 2000. In fact, the most notable change is that the IRS restructured its entire operation to focus on its customer segments (individuals, the self-employed, and small and large businesses), and make sure it delivers quality customer service to each type.

Using Plain Language. Following a June 1998 Presidential directive, agencies are now required to communicate in clear, understandable language with their customers. As an incentive, Vice President Gore presented an award monthly to an employee or group of employees that did a terrific job in rewriting specific communication or regulation documents. Employees saw a significant increase in emphasis by their managers on using plain language, from 26 percent in 1999 to 34 percent in 2000. As a result, the public noticed real changes, from clearer SEC disclosure notices, to OSHA posters of employee rights, to Medicare benefit explanations.

Streamlined Waiver Authority. In 1998, President Clinton signed a directive requiring agencies to streamline their processes for granting waivers from their own internal rules to front line operations. The directive required agencies to grant a waiver within 30 days or the waiver would be presumed approved. A denial, however, could only be made by the agency head, not by someone at a mid-level. Each agency put in place implementation rules. This allowed front line innovation without the need for designation as reinvention labs. 10

Changing NPR’s Name to Reflect Its Change in Strategies. In early 1998, NPR changed its name – to the National Partnership for Reinventing Government – to reflect its shift in strategy and focus. As part of its emphasis on High Impact Agencies, it began pursuing three longer-term change strategies that meant building new sets of relationships between and among federal agencies, states and communities, and citizens. These relationships at all levels made up the partnership in National Partnership for Reinventing Government. These strategies included:

Achieving Results by Working Collaboratively with States and Communities. People and organizations will collaborate enthusiastically across organizational boundaries to produce amazing results and transfer power to communities and citizens.

Some of the things that matter most to Americans are results that are not the sole responsibility of any single government agency or level of government: reducing crime; improving the well-being of our children, and preparing workers for 21st century work. In 1993, NPR recommended changes to how the federal government works with states and communities to streamline the bureaucracy and increase the focus on results and services to citizens. 11 NPR was the catalyst for a number of initiatives that brought federal agencies together with states and communities to focus on and share accountability for results and to create more seamless service delivery. The first effort in 1994 was a pilot with the State of Oregon (the Oregon Option which focused on child health, workforce development, and family stability. Beginning in 1998, NPR launched a series of initiatives that engaged multiple agencies working with states and localities on achieving measurable results in four areas:

  • Improving child well being. In the early part of the Clinton-Gore Administration, OMB led a cross-agency effort to develop measures for well being of children. 12 Using this as a platform, in 1998 NPR initiated “Boost4Kids,” a network of states, communities and federal agencies committed to improving child well-being based on locally set goals and plans. The 13 core members of the network (including counties in California and the states of Vermont and Hawaii), and an additional 70 associate communities, have made significant strides in a number of areas, including:
    • increasing enrollment in child health insurance;
    • simplifying application processes for health insurance and other services;
    • expanding preschool and afterschool activities; 13 and
    • measuring and mapping indicators of child well-being.
  • Creating Hassle Free Communities. Also beginning in early 1998, NPR partnered with states and communities that wanted hassle free one-stop delivery of federal, state, and local governmental services outside government buildings. Together, they developed new ways to deliver public services customers want – when, where, and how they want them – based on federal, state, and local partnerships.

    Together, partnerships were created at the state or local level in 13 states (California, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas and Missouri, Minnesota, Massachusetts, New York/New Jersey, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington). In addition, pilot projects were developed to bring access to electronic government services through kiosks in 36 communities in nine additional states (Maine, Connecticut, Florida, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Arkansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Virginia), with more coming online in 2001. In the partnerships, over 100,000 customers found answers and transactions available in their neighborhoods, at community events, state fairs and Veterans medical centers each year. In Minnesota alone, the annual Government on Display event is bringing information and services from over 100 government agencies to over 200,000 visitors in a single weekend at the Mall of America. The government service kiosks are reaching thousands of additional customers each month.

  • Reducing gun violence. In November 1999, NPR initiated a SafeCities network to link communities and concerned federal agencies committed to reducing gun violence. SafeCities encourages best practices in prevention and prosecution of gun violence. In the first year, the 10 cities belonging to the SafeCities network strengthened their efforts to reduce gun violence in various ways, including: cooperating on federal and local prosecutions; tracing guns used in crimes; tracking crime and injury data; engaging the faith community; and expanding afterschool and other preventive activities.
  • Creating a seamless learning and employment system so Americans have access to the knowledge, skills and tools they need to succeed in the 21st Century workplace. With the passage of the Workforce Investment Act in 1998, NPR began working with a range of federal agencies to partner with states and localities to implement the spirit of this law. This effort was organized at three levels: individual workers, federal partners, and community organizations.

    • For individual workers, their families, and front line staff in workforce programs, the network created a gateway web site, www.workers.gov a key step in realizing a seamless learning and employment system, with over 1,000 links to job banks, skills training, distance learning, family support resources, money management, and other topics.
    • At the federal level, NPR convened cross-agency teams to address three specific issues related to the Workforce Investment Act: unified planning, measurement, and cost sharing.
    • At the community level, NPR convened 20 community-based organizations as the 21st Century Skills Community Network. The Network connects community-based partnerships and federal agencies to enhance education, skills, training and lifelong learning for adults in local communities. The Network, which is sponsored by the Department of Education, started by working on shared projects related to closing the digital divide and increasing access to distance learning.

Getting Agencies to Use a Balanced Set of Measures. Agency management – from the top to front-line supervisors – will use a balanced set of measures to drive operations.

In 1999, NPR assessed the use of a set of related, balanced measures to manage organizational performance. NPR found that both public and private sector organizations sought to balance measures of customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, and business results. Federal agencies pioneering the use of these balanced measures included the Veterans Benefits Administration, the IRS, the National Security Agency, and the Postal Service. Each believed that the use of such a system of measures led to higher performance.

To promote a wider use of such sets of measures in High Impact Agencies, NPR co-sponsored governmentwide surveys to measure both customer and employee satisfaction. Agencies were already required by law to collect mission performance data under the Results Act, which would be available for the first time in early 2000.

Customer Satisfaction. The first measures of customer satisfaction were created with the support of the President’s Management Council, which co-sponsored a survey of customer satisfaction with 30 selected services in 30 of the High Impact Agencies.

Using the 100-point American Customer Satisfaction Index (developed by the University of Michigan and used by private-sector businesses over the past decade), NPR found in 1999 the government was virtually the same as the private sector as far as customer satisfaction was concerned. The government index of 68.6 was close to the private service sector index rating of 71.9. Additionally, 60 percent of government customers said they noticed improvements over the previous two years in government service. The survey provided agency leaders a context for where they stand relative to others in providing excellent customer service. The gap between the federal government and the private service sector decreased in a 2000 survey. In addition, the number of services and customer groups expanded in 2001 to more than 100.

Employee Feedback. NPR partnered with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to sponsor an annual government-wide employee survey, starting in1998, to better understand the extent of changes resulting from reinvention initiatives over the previous years. The results showed that 84 percent of those employees who believed reinvention was a priority in their agency were satisfied with their jobs, compared with 37 percent of those who felt reinvention was not a priority in their organization.

The survey also led to new NPR initiatives to improve labor-management relations and individual performance management. In conjunction with OPM and the PMC, specific actions on these issues led to virtually across-the-board increases in favorable employee responses in the 2000 survey.

Business Results. The final aspect of balanced measures – measures of business results – became available in March 2000 as agencies submitted their first Annual Performance Reports to Congress as required by the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA). GAO found that in general agencies achieved about 60 percent of the targets set in FY 1999, the first full year of the implementation of the Act.

To ensure balanced measures were used by agency leaders in their day-to-day operations, NPR worked with the PMC and the Office of Personnel Management to require the three dimensions to be the basis for senior executive performance assessments and bonuses. These new regulations became effective in 2001.

Creating an Electronic Government. Government will be transformed by electronic means for doing business and provide the public with better access to the government, similar to how “amazon.com” transformed bookselling.

Various initiatives started in early 1997 will enable anyone who wants to transact business with the government electronically to do so easily and quickly. By the end of FY 2000, nearly 40 million Americans were doing business with the government electronically. Emerging forms of information technology became vital tools in changing Americans’ experience with their government. On a regular basis, people will be able to access information to solve problems through the Internet, telephones, or neighborhood kiosks. It’s all about putting citizens online rather than in line.

The Vice President articulated the administration’s vision for e-Gov in his Access America initiative, unveiled in early 1997. The Vice President’s vision includes transcending the traditional boundaries of government by targeting specific groups of citizens with web sites like business.gov, seniors.gov, students.gov, and workers.gov. 14 Following NPR’s lead, several partnerships were created to increase the number of customer-focused web sites including www.statelocal.gov, www.recreation.gov, and www.disabilities.gov.

On December 17,1999, drawing on the Vice President’s efforts, President Clinton issued a memorandum for the heads of executive departments and agencies on the subject of electronic government. It said, in part, “While government agencies have created ‘one-stop shopping’ access to information on their agency websites, these efforts have not uniformly been as helpful as they could be to the average citizen…there has not been sufficient effort to provide government information by category of information and service – rather than by agency – in a way that meets people’s needs.”

NPR worked with agencies to implement the President’s directive to give all Americans greater access to their government by expanding the use of e-Gov. As a result, NPR focused on the following initiatives:

One-stop Government Information. On June 24, 2000, in a web cast address to the nation, President Clinton announced a plan to create FirstGov a single Internet portal connecting users to all government sites. The President challenged government and industry to create a site that allows citizens to find every on-line resource offered by the federal government at one easy-to-use location, and to search government information faster and more efficiently than ever before and by topic rather than by agency. He also challenged government and industry to finish it within 90 days. The site launched on schedule in September 2000.

FirstGov introduces a single point-of-entry to one of the largest and most useful collection of web pages in the world. It allows users to search all 27 million federal agency web pages at one time. The FirstGov search engine can search half a billion documents in less than one-quarter of a second, and handle millions of searches a day. To speed searches, FirstGov allows citizens to find information intuitively -- by subject or by keyword.

Federal Government Forms Online. A key goal of the Clinton-Gore administration had been to ensure that the Federal government provides the highest quality service to the American people. To help make government services more accessible to its customers, NPR worked with the President’s Management Council to place the forms for 500 of the most used government services on-line at a central Internet location. Citizens can download and print the forms via FirstGov. Many of the forms may be filled in and submitted electronically. Those forms that require a hand-written signature can be printed and submitted in paper form. The availability of government forms in an easy to access format is an instrumental step in making all appropriate government services available via the Internet by 2003.

E-mail Access to Public Officials. In keeping with agency commitments to “put customers first,” a high priority on developing customer service solutions for the Internet environment. A mainstay of these solutions is to provide greater access to agency officials through the use of e-mail. NPR worked to ensure that all executive branch agencies provide specialized email addresses for high profile programs or organizations within the agencies. In fact, the majority of agencies have made provisions for the citizen to contact the agency head directly through a public e-mail address.

Additionally, to better serve of customers and partners in government and industry, the Chief Information Officers’ Council has created the Federal White Pages. The White Pages provide anyone with an Internet browser free access to a searchable database of telephone and e-mail contact information for over 400,000 Federal officials in 20 Departments and agencies. Citizens can also access the White Pages wirelessly from most Internet-ready telephones by navigating to the same URL. Complementing the White Pages effort is the General Services Administration’s Federal Blue Pages, which allows citizens to look up organizational contacts or a specific government service.

Identifying Best Practices. Identifying and adapting the management techniques and business processes of private and public sector world-class leaders is instrumental in changing the way government does business. Many agencies are developing strategic blueprints to adapt better business processes, pursue commercial alternatives, consolidate redundant functions, and streamline organizations. Several agencies have utilized the expert services of leading public and private sector best practices consulting firms such as the Gartner Group and the Benton Foundation.

To continue the implementation of “best practices” in the government, the National Partnership for Reinventing Government and the E-Government Committee of the Chief Information Officers Council has created a web-searchable database of “Success Stories in E-Government.” This database contains over 200 success stories related to e-government activities at federal, state, and local levels. The database is managed by Chief Information Officers Council and will be available on its website, which serves as a central clearinghouse of information about e-government best practices, success stories, and lessons learned, in February 2001.

Making Services Available through Kiosks. NPR’s Hassle-Free Communities kiosk initiative (see earlier mention) piloted the use of electronic kiosks – free-standing electronic access to government internet sites in shopping malls, and train and bus stations. The kiosks provided city, state and federal government information, such as taxes, immigration, child support and telephone numbers for government offices. Customers can also print federal, state, and local forms and send e-mails to government officials. By late 2000, there were kiosks in 36 communities around the country from Bangor, Maine to Miami, Florida and from Dallas, Texas, to Los Angeles, California. The sponsorship for the initiative then moved to the General Services Administration.

Building an E-government Infrastructure. To facilitate the transformation to electronic government, NPR worked with the Council for Excellence in Government, along with other public and private partners, to develop an architectural blueprint to enable Americans to conduct all major transactions online by 2003. The blueprint initiative began in November 1999 with a series of symposia attended by more than 100 public and private electronic commerce and information technology leaders who recognized the urgency of identifying a vision of e-government and bringing it into operation. In considering information technology’s capacity to help government deliver services and engage citizens more effectively, they also examined the matrix of complicated, interrelated issues involved. They issued a blueprint in early 2001 calling for a Cabinet-level position dedicated to e-Gov, a strategic investment fund, and a commitment to ensuring all Americans have access to the Internet, regardless of income, disability, or educational background.

Building National Geographic Information Systems. In 1993, NPR recommended a cooperative public/private effort to create a National Spatial Data Infrastructure to integrate geographic information about the country. In response, President Clinton signed Executive Order 12906 that strengthened the existing Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC), with OMB oversight and a call for a national clearinghouse and standards.

Subsequently, NPR encouraged the use of geographic information as an organizing tool for achieving cross-agency, intergovernmental policy results and accountability in public safety, smart growth, and responsive citizen services. For example, in 1998, a joint NPR-Department of Justice task force recommended crime mapping hardware and software training for police departments to map crime hot spots, and a joint NPR-Federal Emergency Management Agency team developed a 17-agency agreement with North Carolina following Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

In July 2000, NPR co-hosted a geo-spatial information technology roundtable with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Interior Department, and the FGDC, to discuss existing and new policies that would make geo-spatial data a fundamental element of e-government activities. As a result, participants, including state and local governments, the private sector and academia, formed ongoing teams to align geo-spatial data from various sources. The FGDC also partnered with NPR to make geo-spatial information available to the public on the FirstGov website.

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