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National Partnership for Reinventing Government

Phase II of the Performance Review: Creating a Common Sense Government -- 1995

Recognizing the election of a new Congress in Fall 1994 as an opportunity to promote change, President Clinton asked Vice President Gore to launch Phase II of reinvention. By this point, agencies reported that they had implemented one-third of the original recommendations that locked in $58 billion of the originally anticipated $108 billion in total savings. The emphasis of Phase II was on what government should be doing, but also included additional reforms to make the government work better. By September 1995, NPR had made approximately 200 new recommendations with an estimated savings impact of nearly $70 billion over a five-year period.

Specific Phase II initiatives included:

  • Undertaking a major reform of the regulatory system. In February 1995, President Clinton directed the heads of about 65 regulatory agencies to: cut obsolete regulations, reward results, not red tape; get out of Washington – create grass roots partnerships; and negotiate, not dictate. He asked that they report progress to him in 100 days, which they did with dramatic results. Agencies identified $28 billion that could be saved each year by reducing regulatory burdens and eliminating 16,000 pages of unnecessary regulations. They also proposed changes to the ways they enforced regulations by increasing the use of partnership arrangements, and shifting the historical emphasis on identifying procedural violations.
  • Having agencies review their current programs to identify areas that could be eliminated. This led to the elimination of 250 programs and agencies, such as the Tea Tasting Board and the Interstate Commerce Commission.
  • Expanding customer service standard programs. NPR’s October 1995 “Customer Service Standards” report showed 214 agencies with over 3,000 standards of service to the public, more than double the prior year.
  • Using benchmarking studies to encourage broad action across agencies on specific issues, such as toll-free numbers to call centers and best practices in downsizing and handling customer complaints.
  • Expanding the use of results-based grants with state-local governments through the use of performance agreements in place of restrictive grant programs.

In an introduction to the Phase II report, Common Sense Government, author Philip K. Howard said this report “boldly announces a strategy to reverse direction toward a government which, whatever its regulatory goals, will be able to serve American citizens instead of crushing us under rigid and often incomprehensible dictates. By laying aside political bickering, this nonpartisan plan holds the key to alleviating the frustration of Americans of every interest and philosophy.” 8

Governing in a Balanced Budget World: A New Challenge -- 1996

By early 1996, the Administration’s commitment to produce a balanced federal budget came to the forefront as the government faced declining fiscal resources. This meant that agencies would be called upon to again reduce resources – not in the name of reinvention but due to fiscal constraints. Vice President Gore recognized that agencies needed help responding to these impending resource cuts. Therefore, he proposed new strategies for how the Administration could responsibly govern in a balanced budget world. These strategies included:

  • Creating “performance-based organizations,” in which offices that deliver measurable services would get greater autonomy, in exchange for greater accountability for results;
  • Dramatically improving customer service;
  • Increasing the use of regulatory partnerships, and
  • Creating performance-based partnership grants.

The Vice President concluded his proposals by noting that “if we do all these things we can balance the budget and protect the priorities of the American people. If we don’t do these things, we’ll balance the budget anyway, but ordinary people could suffer and trust in public institutions could further erode.” 9

In late 1996, toward the end of the first Clinton-Gore Administration, NPR re-assessed the overall status of reinvention in government. Although many improvements had come about, it was apparent that many federal employees still didn't really know or understand the core principles underlying reinvention. NPR saw a disconnect between the senior and middle managers on one hand and frontline employees on the other. Frontline employees of managers who did not support reinvention had no idea about the improved flexibility and changes that had been made by Congress, the White House or their own agencies. This assessment spurred a shift in the focus of reinvention and changed the scope of NPR's efforts.

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