Improving Program Design

Recommendations and Actions

What Can be Done to Develop and Promulgate Program Design?

Program design criteria are merely the foundation for more efficient and effective federal programs. To establish a credible discipline of program design, the criteria and the technology used in successful design should be developed more fully throughout the federal government. The following are recommendations for developing a formal discipline of program design.

DES04: Commission Program Design Courses

In conjunction with its sponsorship of research and development on program design, the President's Management Council should commission the development of a family of program design courses to educate and train several generations of current and future policymakers, program designers, and managers. If informed, reasoned program design is to flourish throughout the federal government, training and education will be important factors in that evolution. Given the wide variation in design knowledge and needs across government, a multitiered approach to education would be superior to a single course of instruction for everyone. A comprehensive education strategy for program design might include:

--a series of short seminars (1-3 days), each focused on a particular mode of public service delivery such as federal subsidies, tax incentives, voucher systems, government sponsored enterprises/corporations, privatization of services, loan guarantees, regulatory initiatives, etc. The target audience for such courses would be agency program specialists (GS 12-15), congressional staffers, budget examiners, and auditors who have need for in-depth knowledge of a specific type of program design and its strengths and weaknesses. These seminars could be disseminated through agency training programs, the Office of Personnel Management's (OPM) executive development centers, the Department of Agriculture Graduate School, and commercial/non-profit institutions such as the Brookings Institute, National Academy of Public Administration, the Congressional Management Foundation, etc.;

--a longer residential course (5-10 days) which would provide a comprehensive overview of program design covering several different design modes comparing the relative advantages and disadvantages of each. The target audience for this course would be program generalists or senior government policymakers who require broader exposure across a variety of programs. This course could be available through the Federal Executive Institute, the Federal Quality Institute, nonprofit organizations, and/or academic institutions;

--introduction of program design subjects into existing management development programs such as agency executive development courses, OPM seminars, senior military schools, and Senior Executive Service candidate development programs; and

--a variety of academic offerings at graduate schools of public administration, public policy, government, and political science. To reach future generations of public servants, the design of government programs should be taught in graduate curricula. If visible academic institutions were to include program design courses as academic electives or requirements, future civil servants would be better educated and vigorous research may begin to emerge as faculty and graduate students collect, synthesize, and create material for their courses.

Schools of public policy and administration should heed the advice of Professor Herbert Simon, Nobel Laureate in Economics, who suggested a more active role for universities in teaching design:

The professional schools will reassume their professional responsibilities just to the degree that they can discover a science of design, a body of intellectually tough, analytic, partly formalizable, partly empirical, teachable doctrine about the design process . . . [S]uch a science of design [is] not only possible but is actually emerging at the present time. It has already begun to penetrate the engineering schools, particularly through programs in computer science and "systems engineering," and business schools through management science. [Endnote 3]


1. See NPR Accompanying Report, Creating Quality Leadership and Management (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, September 1993).

2. "Hill's Micromanagement of Cabinet Blurs Separation of Powers,'' Washington Post (July 25, 1993), p. A1.

3. Simon, Herbert, The Sciences of the Artificial, 2nd Edition (Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1981), p. 132.

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