Federal Communicators Network

Report on the Reinvention Revolution Conference April 7 - 9, 1997

by Carrie Kemper

Vice President Gore's National Performance Review co-hosted the second annual Reinvention Revolution April 7 - 9 at the National Institutes of Health's Natcher Conference Center in Bethesda, Maryland. More than 800 participants from the federal, state, and local level, as well as the private sector, attended the three-day seminar in an effort to learn more about reinvention successes and challenges.

Following is a synopsis of the speakers' remarks in the order they appeared over the three day conference:

Ronald Sanders of George Washington University's Center for Excellence in Municipal Management.
His remarks focused on having a vision and then committing to it. "A chicken laying an egg each day is a vision," he said. "But a pig becoming a ham, now that's commitment."

Harvard Professor John Kotter, author of Leading Change
After years of interviewing the world's top leaders and their employees, Kotter has learned that the most important thing you can do as a manager is to provide an atmosphere whereby your employees make a series of good decisions. To provide that atmosphere, energize and motivate employees to achieve despite bureaucratic and political barriers. As one CEO Kotter interviewed said, "I give my employees the tools to make good decisions because frankly, I don't want to work that hard." Another top executive, Jack Welch of General Electric, told Kotter that what he most strives for daily is to diminish the gap between what you say you're going to do and what you actually do. He said it is a constant challenge, but one that has the reward of gaining the trust and respect of his employees.

Kotter ran down a list of the world's top five leaders and briefly described their leadership styles. A pattern began to emerge, which Kotter summarized as this: to succeed in the new economic environment and to help organizations transform themselves, executives need to develop leadership skills by requiring high standards of themselves and a willingness to grow, grow, grow.

Breakout Session

Executive Learning Laboratory Panel

OMB Director Franklin Raines and OMB Deputy Director John Koskinen gave a special presentation to Senior Executive Service personnel. All SES'ers were invited to the first day of the reinvention conference in at attempt to help dispel the notion that NPR and SES is a study in contradictions. While the rest of the conference participants attended all three days, more than 150 SES'ers attended an accelerated one-day seminar, scheduled to coincide with the Vice President's attendance. Director Raines talked to the group about how government policy relates to reinvention efforts. He said contrary to what many people believe, OMB's numbers prove that "we now have the smallest federal government of all industrialized nations, and that's even including our large military presence. And of the 12 million new jobs during this administration, 90 percent are in the private sector." He noted that this administration has cut 250,000 jobs, which gives us the smallest federal government since 1967.

Raines said he was heartened to note that all parties are working to get a bi-partisan agreement for the 1998 budget.

He said he has started asking agencies to report monthly, rather than yearly, on investment resources technologies, which should give managers more accurate numbers as they try to help cut government wastes.

Raines concluded his remarks by stating that OMB strongly believes in customer service and plans to manage government through three strategies:

  1. trusting the employees to make the right decision
  2. common sense -- providing fewer restrictions
  3. shrewd bargaining -- OMB's job is to get the best deal for the American taxpayer

Deputy Director Koskinen noted that "reinvention is not its own reward -- it's to ensure agencies carry out their mission better." He is working to help agencies implement a better cost accounting system to help agencies decide how to get their work done cheaper and better. He feels that once this is up and running, it will help managers immensely in deciding how to run their agencies. Koskinen recognizes that outsourcing and privatizing are good options for effective government.

He wants to see managers trained better. He worries that government doesn't train people to be leaders or managers, but rather good performers are moved into managerial positions because that is the only way in government to duly compensate them. Then these managers, while they do solid work, do not effectively manage poor performers. He gives this advice to managers who oversee poor performers -- explain to them what it would look like if they were performing at the level you as the manager are looking for.

A Conversation with Bob Stone

NPR Project Manager Bob Stone participated in an anonymous Q and A session during lunch. Some main points Stone made were: NPR is here to stay. It will spend the next four years helping agency offices move from "islands of excellence" to a fully reinvented federal government.

Stone answered more than 20 questions, focusing on such issues as GPRA (NPR is working closely with agencies to help them implement GPRA and is holding many GPRA seminars) and reinvention labs (they are alive and well and receiving a lot of exposure).

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt

Forging Federal and State Partnerships

Secretary Babbitt talked about his department's successful efforts to work in partnership with local and state government and the private sector toward a common vision. He showcased the Florida Everglades as proof that this consensus-building approach really works. He brought a panel of three stakeholders to present case studies of state and local entities working with the feds to building partnerships rather than force regulation.

Babbitt said to have a successful partnership, agencies need to do three things:

  1. Stir things up -- take a fresh look at your agency mission and how you're accomplishing it.
  2. Once you establish a partnership with states, they will enthusiastically embrace the challenge of obtaining funds from Congress for your common goal. Congress is often loathe to give money to feds but are always looking to help at the state level.
  3. Collaborative bench marking efforts are desperately needed -- too many innovative practices are working in isolation.

Babbitt encouraged agencies to establish more watershed councils, a novel approach he has taken for many environmental issues. The councils work under the notion that since watersheds don't respect boundaries, gathering a group representing each stakeholders will help alleviate the turf battles that often plague good, but often misunderstood, environmental initiatives.

Babbitt closed by announcing a new Interior reinvention lab called Access Native American. Administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, this lab will help bring technology into many isolated, rural Native American communities.

Vice President Gore's Town Hall Meeting

Vice President Gore, architect of the reinventing government initiative, ended the day with a town hall meeting. The full transcription is on the NPR web site (, click on "news rooms", then "speeches").

Citing a recent Hart-Teeter poll that shows a rise in public confidence in government, Gore said, "I attribute it entirely to you, the federal employees. We are absolutely on the right track." He gave a sneak preview of a soon-to-be published customer survey conducted by 150 agencies across government, and cited agencies' use of technology, particularly the Internet, to make revolutionary changes in customer service.

He also mentioned the Federal Communicators Network by name. "At last year's meeting," he said, "you told me of some barriers, and just like you listen to your customers, I listen to you. You said there were two main obstacles" to achieving change. "First, you told me that communications to the front lines were poor. Committed reinventors didn't know what was going on in Washington and didn't know what was going on with other reinventors. Second, you said the top brass...just don't get it.

"Well, on the first point, keeping all the reinventors informed, I think we've made some real progress. The Federal Communicators Network provides reinvention news to the editors of over 350 agency newsletters and similar publications. This network collectively addresses over three million civilian and military federal personnel.

To your second point, I have three magic words: Blair House Papers." This little red book is the collection of ideas that President Clinton and the Vice President presented to the Cabinet at its Blair House retreat in January. "It is not my book, it is our book," said Gore. "We're using the Blair House Papers to tell your bosses to get it...implement it, do it. And I'm asking you front-line reinventors, in turn, to use this document as a wedge to ask for, indeed to demand, more authority, and more empowerment....In President Clinton's 1992 State of the Union, he said, "The era of big government is over. And today, in this, my 1997 state of reinvention address, I hereby declare, the era of better government has begun."

IBM Vice President Gerald Prothro

Leveraging Technology

Prothro spoke about the slump IBM found itself in and how IBM reengineered themselves to put in place a good system of check and balances. They built a foundation for worldwide projects by clearly defining their business process and developing their skills. They used a new product (SAP) to decrease their product distribution time from three weeks to same-day shipping, cutting out the middle man for orders. Their new cost structure decreased 50 percent while their productivity increased by 20 percent. His advice was that once you make the decision to change, implement the radical decision quickly because it will be a period of unrest for employees no matter how smoothly you try to make it.

Breakout Session

Creativity and the Organization

This free-wheeling session focused on exploring one's creative self. To explore creativity is to explore the nature of sanity -- it's a fine, wiggly line, but one must don the wings of our higher nature and fly. Through audience participation, the session focused on how to get an agency into synergy (the whole is greater than the sum of its parts) by recognizing individuals' characteristics as being an adapter (efficient, precise, conformist, problem resolution) , an innovator (visionary, undisciplined, problem discovery), or a translator (facilitator between the other two). Questions and thoughts for agencies to think about include:

  1. We have been given many flexibilities in personnel and procurement practices -- why aren't we using them?
  2. Enlightened trial and error is valuable.
  3. In a partnership arrangement, the train should be conducted jointly.

National Treasury Employees Union President Robert Tobias

Forging Labor-Management Partnerships

Tobias spoke about partnerships between labor and management, defining it as "when both sides recognize that they have overlapping interests. But often partnerships fails because both sides haven't clearly defined what the overlaps are. There needs to be patience and persistence to educate their partners." He says partnerships are tough, just like marriage, but necessary.

Tobias noted that President Clinton has done something that past presidents haven't -- taken his job as the chief executive officer of the executive branch seriously. He said most presidents disdain that job, but Clinton has assumed that role and given a active role to Vice President Gore. Tobias said that when he meets with the President and Congress, he carries a message asking them to create a level playing field for the executive branch.

Congresspersons Constance Morella (R-8-MD) and Thomas Davis (R-11-VA)

Forging Institutional Partnerships

The best comment that came out of this session is when Morella said, to enthusiastic applause, that Congress needs to go through a reinvention like what the executive branch is doing.

Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith

Forging Local Partnerships

Goldsmith has earned a reputation as one of the nation's most innovative mayors by reducing government spending, identifying more than $120 million in savings, and cutting the city's bureaucracy. He has reinvested this money in more police officers on the street and in a $500 million infrastructure improvement program. His city won a Ford Foundation Award for the successful way he forged partnerships to include all stakeholders and save money.

He said the better way toward efficient government is to produce MORE services with the money for the services the taxpayer is already paying for. This is different than cutting costs, which cuts services; instead show your customers your results by providing quality services.

He said he saved Indianapolis $250 million since he was elected in 1991 by: rewarding employees for their good ideas; putting in place managers who are change advocates; taking risks (which is necessary to create change and be more competitive, since risk focuses attention on the outcome rather than the problem); focusing on two or three core competencies in each agency and then eliminating, outsourcing, or privatizing the rest; removing the barriers imposed on government employees (since many good public employees remain trapped in a bad system); managing performance outcome (not just input); and recognizing that many private/public lines are blurred and can not be drawn clearly (so partnerships are crucial).

Reinvention Crossfire


Senior Policy Advisor to the Vice President Elaine Kamark, University of Wisconsin Profess Don Kettl, Staff Director of Subcommittee on the Civil Service George Nesterczuk, and Newsday columnist James Pinkerton

This was a very lively session during which a moderator fired off questions at the panel and let each try to answer without getting interrupted. Kamark stated that to her, reinventing government "is not just one thing but a series of things. It's not ONE piece of legislation -- it's a movement." Kettl felt that reinvention has similarities to the Wizard of Oz -- like Dorothy who can click her heels and go anywhere (but doesn't know it until the end), we have a lot more flexibility than we realize and it will take a while to get there.

Pinkerton noted that throwing more money into a program is not always the answer. For instance, if a school program can't be controlled at $7 billion, how will it be controlled at $8 billion? We've got to learn how to manage our existing resources more effectively.

Nesterczuk thinks that franchising is the answer to some of the government's problems. Kamark agreed but said it should be done only within government because of all the existing infrastructure in place. She thinks we could get some competition going within government and buy products and services from other agencies that do it better, esp. administrative duties like payroll. This goes back to the general agreement by the speakers that agencies should recognize their core competencies and outsource their other functions.

All agreed that the big failure in reinvention is the same challenge that government has always faced -- an inability on the part of the agencies to cut the dead weight.

Re: GPRA, all agreed that it is a good idea and it is asking the right questions, but it's too soon to tell if it will work as it ought to work

Retired Colonel Edward Hubbard, author of "Escape from the Box: The Wonder of the Human Potential"

Renewing the Revolutionary Spirit

Hubbard, who was a POW in North Vietnam for more than six years, gave an inspiration talk about the power of the human spirit. He spoke about the one thing everyone has (even in a concentration camp or a POW camp) is the ability to choose one's attitude. "Consider the roadblocks of life stepping stones for opportunity. Instead of having problems to solve, have opportunities to excel. If you change the perception, you change the outcome." He asked that we make a commitment to ourselves not to have a bad day (maybe less than perfect days, but to realize that everything is relative). He said everything you do is determined by two perceptions:

  1. If you believe you can do it
  2. How hard you're willing to work for it.

The conference hosts were NPR, Government Executive, IBM Global Government Industry, Innovations in American Government, Price Waterhouse, the Brookings Institute, the Council for Excellence in Government, and the George Washington University School of Business and Public Management.

For more information, contact Carrie Kemper, (202) 208-4663,

NPR Home Page Search the NPR Site NPR Initiatives Site Index Calendar Comments Awards Links Tools Frequently Asked Questions Speeches News Releases Library Navigation Bar For NPR site