Remarks by Vice President Al Gore
Government Performance and Results Act Conference
Thursday, April 23, 1998

I'm delighted to be here today, to join in this bipartisan discussion of what we can do --across party lines, and among all branches and levels of government to truly reform and reinvent government. Making government smaller and more effective -- making sure it works better, costs less, and gets results Americans care about -- is a matter of performance, not politics. That's why I am pleased that Senators Glenn and Domenici, Congressmen Petri and Armey, and others have helped to draw attention to this critical issue. We want to work with them to make the changes our government needs.

When President Clinton and I took office, we knew that if we were truly going to reform government, we had to better understand how government was working, what it was doing, and what it would take to get results. That's what the Government Performance and Results Act is all about. Some said it was merely enshrining common sense into law. I believe it is about restoring common sense to governing. It is a bipartisan law that really brings the principles of business to our government: setting clear goals, measuring the results, and demanding accountability. It asks each agency to develop a plan of what it wants to do, develop measures of progress, and tell the American people each year how well they did against their plans.

All over America, businesses have transformed how they do business. They have focused on getting information where it needs to be, when it needs to be there. They are being held accountable for their actions. They are focusing in on results. With the Results Act, we have sought to bring that same mindset to our federal government.

We've made a good start, but there's a great deal of discussion about whether that progress has been good enough. Though the law was signed in 1993, we won't see the first set of results until 2000. The first few years after the law was signed, OMB conducted a series of pilots to test different approaches. Last year, all agencies submitted their first strategic plans.

Clearly, some of the plans could be better, but this Administration has delivered the first set of strategic plans ever. And this Administration also delivered the first ever government-wide performance plan of any Western democratic country.

Of course, I know that the preparation of strategic plans, performance plans, measures, and reports -- while important -- doesn't really matter to most Americans. They want to know about things that matter to them.

It's been nearly five years since the Results Act became law. I think it is time to begin shifting the discussion from preparing plans to using them.

Our challenge now is to make the Act work. The challenges that face us-be it crime, the economy, the environment, or health care-are far too big for any one agency, any one level of government, any one political party to solve on their own. We all share the responsibility and the accountability for reaching shared goals.

There's been a great deal of reluctance among many agencies to commit to goals over which they have no real control. There's been significant pressure to continue to wall-off programs into specific budget accounts, agencies, or congressional committee jurisdictions. That's because the traditional notion of accountability is based on outdated, Industrial Age hierarchies.

We can't solve the big, complex problems we face as a nation if we let this happen. We have to shift our notion of accountability from a hierarchical model to one more like the Internet - an interactive web of information and solutions tailored to the specific needs of individual customers.

We've got to use the discipline of the Results Act to transform what government does to get the job done. With the right kind of leadership from both the executive branch and the Congress, it provides the means to shift from an Industrial Age bureaucracy to a high-performing Information Age organization. This means we have a number of challenges we have to solve.

I hope that all of you here at this symposium will help define the next steps. Let me offer several ideas - affecting both the executive as well as the legislative branches - that should be part of your discussion over the next few hours.

The first three are things that should be done right away. The second three are things that will take longer to do, but should be undertaken now so we can create a government we'll all be proud of in the next century.

First, we need to focus oversight and management attention on outcomes. The basic rule of thumb should be-focus on outcomes, ask the customer what's important, and ask the customer how well you are doing.

This needs to be the agency's first task in implementing its performance plan.

This kind of focus changes how agencies work and what they do. It concentrates front-line staff attention on solving problems, and allows them to use flexible strategies and tactics -- instead of following some rule book put out by headquarters that mindlessly governs their daily actions.

Because of President Clinton's directives on customer service over the past five years, this Administration has made a good start on customer-oriented measures of performance.

Over 660 programs and organizations have more than 4,000 service standards in place and many are beginning to incorporate these into their Results Act plans. We've also created an initiative, which I refer to as 'High-Impact Agencies," where President Clinton and I are focusing on the performance plans of 32 agencies that have about 90 percent of the interaction with the public. If these agencies can meet the goals they set for themselves-with customer input-this will make a big difference in our responsiveness to the American people.

Second, we then need to develop a set of common visions, goals, and measures that reach across organizational boundaries.

If we want to solve complex problems, we have to focus all of the different organizations involved on a common set of goals and approaches. We need to harness the energy and emphasis no single agency can provide on its own, but this effort must be based on agency-oriented outcomes.

Also, by setting clear, measurable goals with specific targets, we can have fact-based policy discussions and reduce ideological debates that in the past have simply not delivered results for the American people. This approach has been used successfully in Florida, Oregon, and a number of foreign countries.

Third, information technology is key. It can deliver services across agency boundaries and provide real-time information on performance. In this Information Age, we no longer need to be constrained by organizational hierarchies to get results. In Miami, the Customs Service, the INS, and the Department of Agriculture have jointly partnered with the airlines to combat drugs and illegal entries into the country. When planes take off from foreign airports to Miami, the airlines share their passenger lists with these agencies, who check them for known terrorists or drug dealers. As a result, they focus on violators, and not on every passenger. Their drug arrests have risen sharply, and the two-hour long lines to get through Immigration and Customs have shrunk to minutes.

Information technology will also allow more one-stop shopping. For example, small businesses today can go to a singe web site to get information that affects them from over 60 different federal agencies. More and more, federal agencies arc bridging artificial boundaries through technology.

In addition, time is very important in performance measurement. Access to the most recent information is key. As a management tool, annual reports too often seem like ancient history reports. At the National Park Service, customer satisfaction numbers are now being compiled for every park in the system this summer for the first time. Next year, they will be available to managers on a real time basis. This will make a huge difference to managers in trying to deal with the rush of visitors this summer.

Fourth, in the long run, shared accountability means we'll have to re-think the traditional decision-making process that centers around the budget. The existing budget process almost precludes shared accountability from happening, without enormous effort. But there are pressing needs in many other areas. The current approach to budgeting reinforces the existing agency fire walls.

Part of the solution may be to carve out more time in the policy debate -- to talk more about performance and less about budget. We proposed moving to a biennial budget in 1993. I know Senator Domenici endorses that position. I think it's time we begin to discuss this more seriously. Could you imagine General Motors focusing as much time and energy on this as the Federal Government does? I mean, could you visualize opening the Wall Street Journal day after day and reading about budget debates among the board of directors of GM, and lay-offs of workers because they can't agree on the budget? Investors would think they've gone bonkers! Investors want to know how many cars GM is producing, what their sales are, what the profits are, what the new products are going to be. But the budget? Not really. And that contributes to the performance and trust deficit.

Fifth, we need to create incentives so leaders aren't just required to do the right thing, they want to do it. The Results Act creates the right framework, but we need to create organizational incentives for managers so they naturally want to manage for results.

A couple years ago, I proposed creating performance-based organizations. These new organizations would create incentives for employees to be customer-focused and results-based. The head of the organization would be more like a corporate executive, where his or her salary and job depends on the performance of the organization. Performance measures - like those used in meeting the requirements of the Results Act - would be the neutral arbiter of progress. In exchange for this increased accountability for results, these agencies would grant more flexibility from traditional government rules to get their jobs done. Just last week, Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater and I announced that the Air Traffic Control System within the Federal Aviation Administration would be converted. Othcr agencies, such as the Patent and Trademark Office, are in line. In the end, we want useful measures that are used to make decisions, not just to fill printouts and reports with data.

Sixth, in the long run, we need to rethink how the government organizes to deliver its services.

In the long run, we have to build agencies--and a congressional committee structure -- that work more on horizontal than vertical lines. Partnerships and fluid organizations are the key because networks-not hierarchies-define government in the 21st Century. This will be a difficult step. This means working across agency boundaries - blurring them into virtual organizations where the customer doesn't have to care which agency is delivering the service. This means agencies have to define common goals-as we are doing in ecosystem management. For example, the Park Service, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and the Fish and Wildlife Service have to have a common vision, especially when they share a common stewardship.

This is bard work--and some agencies are taking the lead to work across their organizational boundaries. More needs to be done.

This ultimately may lead to a rethinking of budget formats, the jurisdiction of congressional authorizing and appropriating committees, and the organization of different federal agencies. This has been long discussed, but rarely acted upon. This Act will create, over time, a great deal of clarity in where the mismatches are. For example, the existing governmental structures almost never consider how programs touch a customer like a retiree, or beneficiary, or a student.

There are more than two hundred programs that affect children and families, for example, that are in the jurisdiction of dozens of agencies and over 100 congressional committees. More than 60 committees and subcommittees, for example, have jurisdiction over EPA.

All of these proposals will be tough to carry out. But we have to go from the traditional political approach of making promises to delivering results. These results increasingly mean we have to work together across organizational and political boundaries, and this means leadership. Many of the leaders I'm talking about are in this room. We need to work together, not against each other, in implementing this Act.

Let's agree to work together. We need useful measures, but creating honest measures will create risks. For the first time, people will be able to judge whether something works or not. We won't always be right. But we, together have to encourage, not stymie, risk taking if we want an entrepreneurial government that produces results Americans care about. We can't be in a blame game or in the end public trust will never improve.

In the final analysis, let me say that the Results Act is about far more than the nuts and bolts of government operations. There is more at stake here than the boxes on an organizational chart.

There is even more at stake than people's faith in government -- though that is central to our cause. In the end, what this is about is giving Americans the government they deserve and preparing us for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.

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