Q: Can you tell us how the National Performance Review (NPR) came about and what its mission is?
A: In March of 1993 the President announced that "the federal government is broken and we intend to fix it," and he asked me to lead an effort to reinvent the federal government. The effort led to the National Performance Review. Unlike past government reformers, I gathered insiders-experienced federal workers--organized them into teams to review government operations and issues, and asked them to come back with ideas and solutions. NPR is not about getting rid of government--it's about making it work better and cost less. It's about creating a government that makes sense. A government that regulates people and business by focusing on results--not red tape, that recognizes that the American people are its customers and puts them first not last.
Q: What do you feel is the most important measure to determine if reinvention is working?
A: There are many ways to gage the success of reinvention. However, the first and foremost is the American peoples' restored trust in their government. The world has changed and so have people's needs and expectations. For years, we Americans complained that our government wasn't serving us, that it had gotten so bogged down in process and that it had forgotten about its purpose. But now, throughout the government, federal employees are taking their cue from the business world and asking the customer, you and me, what our needs are instead of telling us. They're eliminating programs that are obsolete, reforming agencies, and streamlining and simplifying regulations. Federal agencies are actually getting fan mail for these improvements. I know that the IRS web site, a Hammer Award winner, has gotten letters from people all over the country complimenting them on the service.
Q: In light of that, what is the most exciting aspect of the NPR so far?
A: I think the impact of customer service standards has created an entirely new relationship between the federal government and its customers. It puts customers first by calling on agencies to set and publicly post standards so that people can know exactly what they should expect. As you know, the IRS was one of the first agencies to publish customer service standards and the results have been outstanding. Last year the IRS promised that you would send out refunds in 40 days or if they filed electronically a mere 21 days. I understand that more than 98 percent of refunds went out on time--as promised. What better way to reform government then to make promises to the public to fix the system and then stick to them.
Q: What should management do to encourage risk takers and pioneers in reinvention?
A: All managers could take a lesson from what Secretary of Education Dick Riley is doing. He hands out wallet-size "reinvention permission slips" to every single employee in his department. That's a pretty powerful message from the secretary of a department to front-line employees.
Similarly, other government leaders hand out "forgiveness coupons" designed to encourage managers and workers alike to take risks. They can redeem them if necessary--and sometimes it is necessary. But the point is to encourage them to try something new, to innovate, to take some changes, to try to learn. Organizations that do not learn, do not change. Organizations that do not change eventually do not work.
Q: There has been public perception that reinventing is just another name for personnel cuts. How do you assure government employees that the "reforms" won't stop once the staffing goals have been reached?
A: The reforms won't stop because federal workers won't want to go back to the red tape and redundancy they are getting rid of. One of our primary goals is to empower federal workers--to free them from the burdens of overregulation and micromanagement. NPR's recommendation to shrink the federal workforce was mainly targeted at positions of overcontrol, especially headquarters staff, supervisors, auditors, accountants and specialists in budget, procurement and finance. Reducing this structure will give us a more inspired, empowered and productive workforce. This goal is even more important now that we have a durable bipartisan consensus on a balanced budget.
Q: This issue of Leader's Digest is exploring the changes that managers will face in the future. What do you see the workforce challenges being and what skills will federal managers need to assimilate?
A: That's a great question because the role of the federal manager is essential in helping other federal employees believe in reinvention and the possibility of change.
First, managers must involve all employees in developing clear vision and a shared sense of mission. The vision--supplemented with clearly understood goals and shared values among everyone in the organization--can be the basis of intelligent decisions. Managers must help their staff cross boundaries and work effectively with other organizations. In intelligent organizations, teams and their members must reach out to create a more integrated organization--one that puts their customers first.
It is essential that managers empower their employees to achieve the goals of the organization. Recently, I had the privilege of giving a Hammer Award to a joint union-management team of field and headquarters workers at OSHA. This Design Team, as it's called, developed a whole new way for OSHA area field offices to work and team members are now "rolling out" the model all over the country. I'm convinced that it's the future federal regulatory approach--teams to reduce layers of management, partnership with those being regulated and common, results-oriented goals--in OSHA's case to protect the health and safety of workers.
Also, managers need to create clear accountability. When the IRS signed on as a pilot agency of the Government Performance and Results Act in 1993, it made a public commitment to establish performance goals and to report to the taxpaying public how well they were meeting those goals. Managers need to be aware that they will now be expected to concentrate on performance and carefully measure results--outcomes and outputs, not just inputs.
Finally, managers need to surmount two major hurdles. The first is cynicism--specifically a belief that this new set of changes is not real. If managers let cynicism stand in the way of change they will face more and more hostility from an increasingly cynical public and from restless employees who understand why this change is good from the workforce as well as for the American people.
The second obstacle is culture. Many federal employees find security in the existing work culture. It limits individual accountability and protects against change. But, because this existing culture no longer services the public interest as well as it should, our challenge is to create a new one--one that supports innovation and quality. Then a new face of government will appear--of leaders with vision, of employees newly empowered and newly motivated, and of customers newly satisfied.