The National Performance Review is the Clinton-Gore Administration's initiative to reform the way the federal government works. Its goal is to create a government that "works better and costs less." Begun in the early days of the Administration, and with Vice President Al Gore at its helm, the Review has operated the duration of the Administration through several phases of initiatives.
Preparing the Original Report
The National Performance Review was created by President Bill Clinton on March 3, 1993. He appointed Vice President Al Gore as its leader. The President gave the review a 6-month deadline -- report results to him by September 7, 1993.
The review was largely staffed by about 250 career civil servants. In addition, some interns, state and local government employees on loan, and a few consultants were also engaged in the work of this interagency task force. The core leadership included Elaine Kamarck, a senior political advisor to the Vice President, Bob Stone, project director, and four deputies: Billy Hamilton, who led a series of teams examining the 24 largest agencies (Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, etc.); John Kamensky, who led a series of teams examining governmentwide systems (procurement, budget, personnel, etc.); Bob Knisely, who focused on special fiscal analyses; and Carolyn Lukensmeyer, who focused on internal staff dynamics and communication.
They launched the effort with an initial training session for the newly formed staff on April 15, 1993. David Osborne, co-author of "Reinventing Government" served as a key advisor and spoke at this kickoff session along with the Vice President and the deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Phil Lader.
Vice President Gore visited a series of agencies during the next few months to learn first-hand the problems facing these agencies. He also hosted a June 1993 "Reinventing Government Summit" in Philadelphia of corporate executives, government leaders, and consultants who were leaders in organizational change.
The President had also directed agencies to create their own internal reinvention teams that worked with the corresponding NPR teams (many of which, such as NPR, continued on beyond the end of the initial review to assist in implementing the resulting recommendations). NPR worked closely with these teams in developing the recommendations presented to the Vice President.
Vice President Gore was heavily involved in the decisions being made and, before publishing the final report, met with each agency head to ensure his or her support for his proposed recommendations. The final report was based on a series of "accompanying" reports prepared by the nearly two dozen teams of NPR staffers. The final report highlighted 119 of the 384 recommendations listed in an appendix. The 38 specific accompanying reports total nearly 2,000 pages and expanded on the 384 recommendations by detailing 1,250 specific actions intended to save $108 billion, reduce the number of "overhead" positions, and improve government operations.
The final report, Creating a Government That Works Better and Costs Less, was presented to President Clinton in a ceremony on the White House lawn on September 7, 1993. Immediately after the White House event, the President and Vice President made a tour of the country to promote the report and to issue Presidential directives to begin implementing its recommendations. By December 1993, the President had signed 16 directives implementing specific recommendations, including cutting the work force by 252,000 positions, cutting internal regulations in half, and requiring agencies to set customer service standards.
Implementing Phase I Recommendations
Shortly after NPR's 1993 report was released, most of the staff returned to their home agencies. About 50 staff remained on the task force to start implementation of a series of over-arching initiatives. These efforts included training federal employees about customer service, creating reinvention laboratories to pilot innovations, promoting the streamlining of headquarters functions, and staffing NPR-recommended cross-agency councils such as the National Partnership Council, the President's Management Council, and the Government Information Technology Services Working Group.
NPR also created a tracking system to follow progress on each of the 1,250 individual action items. Individual agencies were charged with following through on the two-thirds of the recommendations that were specifically targeted to them. The remaining one-third -- mostly recommendations affecting all agencies, such as budget reform or civil service reform -- became the responsibility of interagency groups (such as the Chief Financial Officers Council and the Electronic Benefits Transfer Task Force), OMB, or NPR. For example, OMB took the lead in implementing the Government Performance and Results Act and NPR took the lead on customer service standards.
NPR worked with OMB and White House staffs to develop performance agreements between major agency heads and cabinet secretaries, and the President. As of the end of 1995, the heads of 8 of the 24 largest agencies had piloted the signing of performance agreements with the President -- something never before done. OMB and NPR are coordinating the development of additional agreements in 1996.
The biggest challenge facing NPR was communicating its message to the federal work force. It developed a training video, which was shown by the Federal Executive Boards and Federal Executive Associations around the country. It prepared an interactive CD-ROM disk of the original report, its accompanying reports, the customer service report, and the status report. It worked with the Federal Quality Institute to develop training curricula. It also created a newsletter for federal employees.
NPR also sponsored the creation of a series of interagency initiatives under the umbrella of "Net Results," an electronic interchange of information and ideas among federal employees and the general public. This now includes this web site and a series of other sites (go to Web Links). It also sponsored an electronic forum on reinvention issues involving hundreds of people across the country in late 1994 and is helping pilot a rule making initiative on-line in early 1996.
NPR's biggest initiative in 1994 was helping agencies create their first sets of customer service standards. NPR held weekly training sessions during the summer of 1994 to help agencies develop their standards. By October 1994, about 150 agencies had prepared around 1,500 standards. The previous year, only 3 agencies had standards.
NPR also piloted a partnership with the State of Oregon to focus on jointly achieving program results in children and family programs. The Vice President co-signed an agreement in December 1994 with the governor and local officials to work together in creating a results-oriented service delivery system.
The Vice President stayed personally involved in the reinvention initiative. In March 1994, he presented his first progress report to the President on the first anniversary of the President's creation of NPR. The Vice President also made a major speech later that month at Georgetown University outlining his vision of the new role of federal executives, in July he spoke at the annual Federal Quality Conference, and throughout the year, he presented awards to teams of federal employees who had reinvented their part of the government. By early 1996, his "Hammer Award" had been given to more than 250 teams of federal employees across the government.
By September 1994, the first anniversary of the release of the original report, NPR concluded that significant progress was being made in the implementation of its recommendations. It also found that many agencies were making changes that went far beyond what NPR recommended and a number of these efforts were highlighted in its status report to the President.
Outside observers also examined the progress of NPR. The General Accounting Office issued an initial report on NPR's recommendations in December 1993, and a one year status report in December 1994. The Brookings Institution released its initial assessment in August 1994, and a book in January 1995. Other observers also offered their assessments.
During this year, Congress enacted about one-quarter of the recommendations needing legislative action. The most significant included the "buyout" bill, which allowed agencies to offer financial incentives to selected employees to leave the government. This bill, signed in March 1994, also raised the number of positions to be reduced over 5 years from the 252,000 recommended by NPR to 272,900. The third, the "Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994" was ultimately signed into law in October 1994. By the end of the 103rd Congress in December 1994, 34 laws had been signed implementing about a quarter of those NPR recommendations requiring legislation.
Phase II of the Performance Review
NPR opened 1995 with the realization that the election of a new Congress meant that the Administration would have an opportunity to expand its agenda for governmental reform. President Clinton asked Vice President Gore on December 19, 1994 to launch a "second phase" of reinvention -- known as "Phase II."
Agencies were asked to look hard at their missions and decide what government should or should not be doing. Initial agencies reviewed, such as the Departments of Energy and Housing and Urban Development, proposed substantial changes. As the agency, OMB, and NPR teams completed their reviews, the President and Vice President made announcements regarding their decisions.
The Vice President also asked NPR to help lead a major reform of the regulatory system. A series of initiatives was undertaken in early 1995 to identify obsolete regulations that could be eliminated, create partnerships between regulators and those being regulated, and identify specific regulations that could be revised. The President and Vice President held a series of announcements during the Spring and Summer to release these new proposals.
By September 1995, NPR Phase II proposed about 200 new recommendations, with savings totaling nearly $70 billion over five years, agencies continued to implement more of the original recommendations. By September 1995, agencies claimed they had completed implementation of one-third of the 1,250 original recommendations with savings totaling $58 billion of the originally-recommended $108 billion in savings. Agencies also identified $28 billion a year in reduced regulatory burdens and proposed eliminating 16,000 pages of regulations. They also proposed plans for changing the way they enforced regulations to increase the use of partnership arrangements and reduce historical emphases on identifying procedural violations unrelated to performance.
NPR continued the implementation of a number of initiatives from Phase I, successfully using benchmarking studies to encourage broad action across agencies on specific issues, such as tele-servicing. It also continued the Vice President's Hammer Awards and agencies expanded the number of reinvention labs. In addition, it expanded its work with state-local governments on the use of performance agreements in place of restrictive grant programs. A number of these initiatives were detailed in the President's February 1995 budget proposals.
Agencies also revised their customer service standards. The October 1995 Customer Service Standards report shows 214 agencies with over 3,000 standards of service to the public.
Congress held numerous hearings on NPR-related recommendations and acted upon several during the course of the year, including the elimination of "unfunded mandates" on states and localities, reducing the number of congressionally mandated reports prepared by federal agencies, and new flexibilities for the Federal Aviation Administration. Several congressional committees explored the need for a major reorganization of the federal government, but took no action.
Governing in a Balanced Budget World: New Initiatives for 1996
By early 1996, it became clear to most agencies that they would face declining fiscal resources for the foreseeable future. The President's fiscal year 1997 budget projected a balance for the first time in several decades and proposed cutting domestic agencies on average by 22 percent over a 6-year period. The Republican Congress had proposed cuts equivalent to a 35-percent cut over the same period.
Vice President Gore recognized that, under either scenario, agencies needed a blueprint for how they could approach these cuts and proposed a series of new initiatives intended to show how the Administration would responsibly govern in a balanced budget world. He observed that agencies needed to focus on the ends, not the means, of what government does and must delegate more authority to managers on the front line. He also saw information technology allowing a shift away from the traditional "one size fits all" approach to a more tailored "custom fit" approach to the missions of individual agencies. Building on the successes of NPR's reinvention labs and other initiatives, he proposed agencies:
Convert to Performance-Based Organizations. Agencies would take functions that deliver measurable services and grant them greater autonomy from government-wide rules in exchange for greater accountability for results. This includes separating policy making out from these organizations and hiring a chief executive on a performance contract for a fixed term. This approach is used successfully in the United Kingdom to improve services and reduce costs.
Improve Customer Service Dramatically. All agencies would be challenged to set service goals that were significantly better so everyone in American would see government service was getting better. The heads of the 11 agencies with the greatest customer contact made public commitments to improve selected services during 1996, and other activities were announced to improve government services.
Increase the Use of Regulatory Partnerships. During the previous two years, the Environmental Protection Agency and other regulatory agencies had piloted approaches to non-coercive partnerships that focus on meeting environmental goals rather than on complying with regulatory processes. Gore announced that these approaches would become the mainstream strategy for federal regulatory agencies.
Create Performance-Based Partnership Grants. Gore proposed converting the existing 600 grant system to federal-state-local partnerships based on achieving results rather than focus on process. By jointly developing goals and objectives for major programmatic areas, states and localities would be given greater flexibility in using and accounting for federal grant funds.
Establish Single Points of Contact for Communities. A major challenge for communities dealing with the federal government is untangling the complexity of its programs to determine who is responsible for what. Gore recommended that a single point of contact be designated for the nation's larger communities to create integrated accountability for the federal government's actions in those communities.
Transform the Federal Workforce. The existing civil service system, largely crafted in 1883, can no longer respond quickly to change or the varying needs of different organizations in the federal government. Gore proposed major overhauls in 1993 and 1994 that had not received congressional support. While not backing away from his support for these changes, he recommended quick action on issues where there was bipartisan support, such as expanding existing authorities for agencies to tailor the present system to their individual needs. He also reiterated earlier recommendations to increase training investments in the workforce and hold senior executives more accountable for achieving results.
Like the Phase II initiatives, these initiatives were also included in the President's fiscal year 1997 budget. NPR created selected teams to lead the implementation of these initiatives during Summer 1996.
In addition, NPR conducted an informal self assessment. It found hundreds of examples of success and a change in the environment that employees were beginning to believe that widespread change would be possible. But it also found front line employees were not hearing enough about reinvention initiatives and they felt senior managers were not supportive of their efforts to reinvent.
Beginning of the Second Term: 1997
Rather than launching new initiatives, NPR has chosen to build on the successes of the first term and address the challenges of NPR's self assessment. NPR's goal is to shift its strategy from encouraging scattered examples to transforming entire agencies. It is beginning by changing how it interacts with federal employees by shifting from targeting information at the departmental level to targeting it at the agency level within departments. For example, it has created a network among nearly 300 newsletter editors in agencies and an Internet Homepage www.npr.gov with a great deal of "hands on" tools for use by front line employees.
As a vehicle for communicating "the rules of reinvention" to new political leaders, the President and Vice President met with the Cabinet in January 1997 to discuss practical tools for running agencies. These tools, called "The Blair House Papers," have been shared with all senior leaders in the federal government and are being used as a check list for measuring change. To support reinvention closer to the front lines, NPR is working closely with about 30 agencies to help them develop specific strategies for dramatically transforming their performance, even in the face of reduced budgets. These agencies were selected based on their impact on the public, business, or the operation of other federal agencies.
NPR is also working with these agencies to help them integrate their reinvention strategies into their overall strategic planning, as required under the Government Performance and Results Act into their daily operations. NPR is also planning a governmentwide employee survey to assess the progress of reinvention's culture changes on the front line so it can better target its future efforts.
Resources for Further Study
NPR staff have begun a bibliography of materials, beyond those published by the NPR itself and those items posted on this Web Site. There are also a number of other Web sites that are heavily involved in reinventing government, including at the state and local levels. The NPR web site address is: http://www.npr.gov.
NPR's primary reports and accompanying reports are available from the Government Printing Office. The primary reports include:
Document updated February 1997