Report on Executive Exchange

A special feature of the Reinvention Revolution Conference was a one-day "Executive Exchange" on Monday, April 7, 1997. This day, designed for members of the Senior Executive Service and Administration appointees unable to attend the entire conference, addressed senior management issues including leadership,teamwork and reinvention.Co-hosted by the President's Management Council and the Senior Executives Association, the Exchange provided a special opportunity to discuss the Blair House Papers as the Administration's rules for reinvention for the next four years.

This following report was written by Lauren Giniger at George Washington University, 202-994-6295

Executive Learning Lab:
Franklin Raines, Director, Office of Management and Budget
John Koskinen, Deputy Director, Office of Management and Budget

Franklin Raines, speaking to an audience of approximately two hundred federal senior executives, declared that we are in the midst of a major revolution in fiscal policy, which portends a parallel revolution in program management, content, and design. According to Raines, our fiscal policy has shrunk the U.S. government, and with the attendant efforts at budget balancing, the relative strength of today's economy has had a major impact on daily government operations. The federal workforce is the smallest it's been in thirty years and the share of civilian employment is the lowest it's been since 1931. In his tenure with this administration, Raines has presided over a sixty-three percent decline in the federal deficit and a nineteen- percent decline in federal spending as a share of the nation's gross domestic product. The U.S. government is one of the smallest of any industrialized nation: our government expenditures account for just thirty-three percent of the GDP, compared with fifty-four percent for France, forty-six percent for Canada, and thirty-six percent for Japan.

Raines envisions a government where agencies are pared down to two-three core competencies. Effectively managed government programs must demonstrate successful programmatic outcomes. The resource inputs for these programs will not come from items in the budget margins, indeed budget margins are being phased out as we shrink government to its core. Finding the resources necessary to manage effectively will be a function of demonstrating success in meeting program goals and outcomes.

This fiscal and economic environment does present major challenges to today's federal manager: he or she must balance the demand for program improvements in an environment of increasing resource scarcity. The bottom line is that the budget process will be driven by performance, and marginal dollars will flow to high-achieving programs.

Given the above prognosis, Raines proffered the following strategies and tactics to the audience members:

Additionally, today's senior executive must:

  1. Know that enormous savings opportunities exist in IT applications to procurement.
  2. the judgement of managers: smart thinking does not equate rules.
  3. Trust common sense, not government specifications.
  4. Bargain shrewdly, because good deals don't last forever. The goal of procurement is not kindness to vendors, but achieving the best buy for taxpayers.

John Koskinen described a federal workplace where resource constraints aren't totally bad news; good management in such an environment will get one noticed. Additionally, he described government reinvention as, "not its own reward, but a means to an end to achieve high performance and deliver good customer service." Strategic planning and GPRA are tools to achieve the above ends, and he urged participants not to get lost in the rhetoric of GPRA. The GPRA vocabulary is as simple as a mantra: inputs (resources in,) outputs (process), and outcomes (program effect.) Similarly, the basic tenets of GPRA are reducible to the following set of questions:

  1. What's the goal?
  2. Has the goal been achieved?
  3. Was the goal measured?
Koskinen noted that reinvention on Capitol Hill can be gleefully perceived as an excuse for program slashing. GPRA ensures that the process is rational and justified. The real risk in GPRA is the focus on performance budgeting vs. performance management. In performance budgeting, we are all "flying blind." GPRA is not about reallocating resources, but about adjusting program management and delivery.

Koskinen and Raines fielded several questions from the audience:

On how to integrate customer feedback into strategic planning and GPRA. Koskinen responded that the process will be agency specific, as each agency monitors customer service through surveys. The most important agency task is to view their service delivery process from the customer viewpoint.

On outsourcing/privatization: Competition can facilitate government reinvention. Raines said, "benchmarking is longhand for copy and steal." In other words, benchmarking against "best practices" makes good management!

On leveling the playing field: Koskinen said that this would be done through franchising and partnerships. Managers must get used to thinking in terms of partnering, and to use cost-accounting, which he described as not some arcane management technique, but as a an efficient tool that visibly presents information and eases comparisons.

On Personnel: Koskinen urged managers to take responsibility for poor performers. He contends that personnel problems aren't statutory, but a challenge in which one takes existing flexibility's and uses them to improve a situation. People don't take a job to do a lousy job; thereby suggesting that the problem may lie in the poor management of those branded as poor performers. Raines noted that bad practices are often handed down through the managerial ranks, and that managers lack training because they are rewarded for their individual contributions by promotion into management positions. This is one in a long list of bad government practices. He offered a human resource challenge to the executives in attendance: "transforming ordinary people into extraordinary performers." He urged the attending executives to envision and personalize job descriptions and describe what the ideal performer looks like. Poor performers, "don't have a clue as to what it is you want."

Koskinen and Raines closed the session by defining the overarching challenge of government transformation as one of full-time communication. Because of the size and complexity of government, and because people have short attention spans, communication is a full-time job, and word has to filter down to the federal front lines. Also, government work is a higher calling. It is not just about filling in forms; it is the expression of collective action. Government reinvention is important because these techniques produce results, and a healthy democracy is one wherein the people do not scorn government.

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