Reinventing Government

Steve Lockwood Humanities Northern Montana College

[The reviewer thanks Governor Racicot for agreeing to a phone interview about this book and the university system's restructuring. The book is being reviewed in relation to its potential impact on Montana's university system.]

In the preface to their book, Osborne (author of Laboratories of Democracy, Harvard Business School Press, 1988, and consultant to state and local governments) and Gaebler (president of "a public-sector management-consulting firm," says the book jacket) state that the purpose of their book is to describe present governments that are responding to the new challenges of the "post-industrial, knowledge-based, global economy" (xvi) and to show what these governments are trying to accomplish. This focus differentiates their book from others spawned by Americans' dissatisfaction with government, most of which books, they say, offer policy corrections, or plans for what government should do. Reinventing Government "focuses on all levels of government--federal state and local--and its subject is not what they do, but how they operate " (xxi).

From these examinations of different governments, Osborne and Gaebler describe ten principles common to successful experiments in reorganizing the techniques of governing. Their reason for doing so is to provide a rough "map" of tested procedures for others who wish to reorganize their own governments (xvii). In this endeavor the authors seem sincere; they make clear that they believe in the necessity for government, for effective governing (which Americans mostly lack), for revising governmental systems rather than the people who work in them, for a departure from traditional conservative and Iiberal politics which have little relevance to today's problems, and for equal opportunity for all Americans (xviii). They also believe that all these needs can be met in large part by entrepreneurial government, which uses choice and competition as motivators for government employees to ply "resources in new ways to maximize productivity and effectiveness" (xix).

The book devotes a chapter to each of the ten principles, then in a final chapter shows how, on the basis of previously discussed examples, these principles might be applied toward reforming America's health care, education, and penal systems. Two appendices explain Alternative Service Delivery Options for governments, and the Art of Performance Measurement. Research seems extensive; it depends primarily on management literature and government-sponsored studies.

Since these ten chapter titles are descriptive, listing them here may give a good indication of the blueprint they will provide for change in Montana's government agencies, including the university system. (1) Catalytic Government: Steering rather than Rowing, (2) Community-Owned Government: Empowering rather than Serving, (3) Competitive Government: Injecting Competition into Service Delivery, (4) Mission-Driven Government: Transforming Rule-driven Organizations, (5) Results-oriented Government: Funding Outcomes, Not Inputs (6) Customer-driven Government: Meeting the Needs of the Customer, Not the Bureaucracy, (7) Enterprising Government: Earning rather than Spending, (8) Anticipatory Government: Prevention rather than Cure (9) Decentralized Government: From Hierarchy to Participation and Teamwork, and (10) Market-oriented Government: Leveraging Change through the Market.

How do these mostly self-explanatory titles affect Montana's university system? Perhaps a book-jacket quotation from then-presidential-candidate Clinton will help clarify the ways. "This book should be read by every elected official in America. Those of us who want to revitalize government in the 1990s are going to have to reinvent it. This book gives us the blueprint." Governor Racicot agrees. In light of these endorsements, a closer look at what Osborne and Gaebler say will provide some guidance in assessing the outcomes of the impending university system merger.

At the outset, Osborne and Gaebler praise governments that use competition, customer choice, and other nonbureaucratic means to accomplish tasks, stating that "these models are our future" (2). The parts common to entrepreneurial organizations include competition, power decentralization, outcome measurement, planning for problems, and generally preferring "market mechanisms to bureaucratic mechanisms" (20). Since successful experiments in government have built on these features, Montanans may expect revisions in the university system to follow them.


Of all the concepts in their book, the authors say the most important is competition (79) because it implies choice for customers. Competition may need to be managed to equalize competitors' chances; among grade schools, inner-city locations may need more subsidizing than suburban ones, at least initially. As others have noted before them, Osborne and Gaebler cite the successes of schools in East Harlem which compete with one another for students. Teachers rather than administrators run these schools; class sizes are kept small because students learn more quickly with more individual attention; and courses and procedures change in response to parents' suggestions. The single greatest contributor to these successes is parental involvement with their children and their children's schools (94). In any reform, constituent involvement must include the effort to learn what choices exist before intelligent ones can be made. This dictum must certainly hold true if Montana's university system is to be restructured productively.

The question of competition and choice may prove trickier than Osborne and Gaebler and the regents think. The authors apparently assume that parental choice in East Harlem depends on which schools provide the best education. But how do parents determine who provides it? Standard international test results (e.g., see the Special Report in the American Educator, Winter 1992, "US Education: The Task Before Us," 26-28) show that American students at the elementary and secondary levels trail, often by significant amounts, their Asian and European counterparts. Yet while Asian parents generally are dissatisfied with their children's performance, American parents are generally satisfied. (See, for example the review of Stevenson and Stigler's 1992 book The Learning Gap in American Educator, Summer 1993, 47; and "The Great Divide," a summary of data from the Committee for Economic Development, in American Educator, Summer 1992, 35.) As AFT national president Albert Shanker noted during this July's conference on Quality Educational Standards in Teaching in Washington, D.C., the evidence from other industrialized nations shows that secondary students are capable of much more complex tasks than American schools require of them. Evidently, American parents value the acculturating roles of schools above their educational missions.

This attitude travels with these students to college. In an On Campus article (Sept. 1993), Shanker repeats testimony (7) familiar to any college teacher in America: students, concerned with GPAs, overwhelmingly choose courses (often this means teachers) which offer high grades for everyone. In these cases market mechanisms promote watered-down education and penalize rigorous courses. Under pressure for high grades, students have learned they can exert their own pressures. William Cole, instructor in romance languages and literature at Harvard, notes in a Chronicle of Higher Education article (6 Jan 1993) that non-tenured faculty are especially susceptible to student and parental pressure for undeserved grades; they fear (often legitimately) that poor student evaluations will damage their careers (81-2). Professors know that grade inflation is a response to customer demand. In another Chronicle article (24 Feb. 1993) Edward White, professor of English at California State University-San Bernardino, warns that this demand helps fuel the burgeoning plagiarism problem in higher education (A44). Unfortunately, as Shanker says in his article (7), what college customers want are good grades without much work. Hardly any evidence shows that they want a rigorous education.

According to Osborne and Gaebler (79), competition between policy-making agencies results in turf war and inefficiency, but competition between service providers fosters lower costs and better efficiency. It would seem, then, that MSU and UM would not become policy agencies; presumably that job will remain the province of the commissioner's office. Where does the system need more competition between units? In Montana's higher education system, as elsewhere, student customers have enjoyed choice for years. The regents' plan and the public's uninformed opinion is that program duplication within the system should be eliminated, but this move seems to abolish rather than nourish competition. The regents need to show how their restructuring plan improves the competitive benefits that Montana college students now enjoy.

Osborne and Gaebler warn (80) that among public employees, competition between individuals undermines morale (one of their examples is merit pay for teachers, because it pits one against another). However, competition between teams (schools, departments) builds morale--so long as it does not threaten participants' job security (84). This idea would certainly revise the competition among academic capitalists (see Paul Trout's review of Harold Fromm's Academic Capitalism & Literary Value in the spring 1993 Montana Professor ).


Decentralizing power is a concept that W. Edwards Deming started preaching in the late 1940s; the Japanese auto manufacturers applied his ideas which insist on shared power, specifically reducing management power and increasing line-workers' power. Deming's quality circles consist of teams of workers and managers who constantly test and revise procedures with the goal of revising the procedures. Assignment of individual fault is prohibited. As Osborne and Gaebler note (159), Deming's total quality management concept must be implemented totally, not piecemeal. Organizations that have ignored unpalatable parts of the plan, such as equalizing management and worker power, have floundered. Further, the authors say (253) that the effective use of "knowledge workers" such as specialists, teachers, and environmental officers depends on not treating them like robots on an industrial assembly line; they must have authority to make decisions. Yet the regents' plan (as distributed by fax to all campuses on August 19) gives no indication that faculty will decide, let alone participate in discussions about, their own workloads or program review.

Strategic planning presumably has been a function of the regents all along. Perhaps they will explain how this new plan fits with the Commission of the Nineties report from several years ago, and certainly they will offer some version of a five- or ten-year plan. If based on Osborne & Gaebler's recommendations, such a plan would support decentralization and a flattening of the power hierarchy. The authors (265) use Fox Valley Technical College as an example of pushing power into teachers' hands; over three years the school eliminated one vice president and six middle manager positions through attrition. Administrative revision came to the Chicago public school system in the late 1970s because, for the same number of students, it had 42 times more administrators than Chicago's Catholic school system (262).

Reform in Montana's university system may indeed be possible at the administrative level. This system, however, has not decentralized its power; many have pointed out the increased number of administrators in the system and in the commissioner's office over the past fifteen years. As Governor Racicot says in his Open Letter in last spring's [1993] Montana Professor, "our university system has as many administrators earning more than $50,000 as the rest of state government, which is three times larger" (2). The regents' current (August 19) document does state (3) administrative staffing "will be reviewed and recommendations prepared," but gives no guidelines and assigns no reviewers. Such haziness contrasts sharply with the academic review section (7) which says that "criteria are being proposed to campuses for review of all programs" so that "a list of programs considered for elimination will be prepared for the Regents as soon as possible." This sounds much more like the regents have a definite commitment to cut product and faculty rather than administrators. Paradoxical as it may seem, downsizing often applies solely to workers; the last retrenchment at NMC (1989) actually saw administrative numbers increase in order to help plan which faculty to eliminate.

If centralized bureaucracy and hierarchy are no longer feasible in government (II), then the regents' goal of creating "a single unified system of higher education" may be a move in the wrong direction.

For the past few years everyone has heard about outcomes assessment; endless discussions (at least in administrative meetings) revolve around the terms "accountability" aud "performance." Osborne and Gaebler identify one reason (141): technology now exists to "generate, analyze, and communicate a thousand times more information than we could just a generation ago." Most teachers can agree that their institutions generate more data (fill mailboxes with more paperwork) than they did even five years ago. Whether this data is properly analyzed is the issue. Osborne and Gaebler recognize the difficulties of assessment; presumably that is why Appendix B concerns the art (rather than science) of performance measurement. Pitfalls abound; rule-driven organizations, including most government agencies (and universities), tend to measure and analyze quantity but not quality or vice-versa. About numbers they give a special warning, citing the director of Massachusetts' Industrial Services Program: "Our Worst centers are those that are numbers-driven" (355).

And agencies often measure outputs or processes rather than outcomes, or the goals the processes were designed to meet. That is, managers often measure how well they carry out administrative processes, such as how many people they serve in what time period, and with how many workers. But they often fail to measure whether all these people they have served are somehow better off for having been processed. A local driver-examination station could conceivably process hundreds of 12-year-olds successfully, but they couldn't drive (legally anyway) on Montana roads for several more years. The authors also note that not everything that government does can be measured successfully; their example is the performance of diplomats in the State Department. Does higher education belong in this category? Richard Ferguson, president of the American College Testing Service, says ( On Campus, Sept. I993) that his organization has worked 17 years on instruments to assess college outcomes. But because widespread agreement about what to assess does not exist, so far "it is not possible to define what a college degree means" (3).


Reinventing Government contains many examples of successful innovation in public agencies, and deduces much practical advice regarding implementation of changes. For example, they agree that the best way to secure AFT cooperation is to adopt a policy of no layoffs (264), though personnel may be shifted as needed; and they list (307), among the misdirected efforts of business to help education, the donating of computers and providing awards to outstanding teachers. But while Osborne & Gaebler recognize many of the dangers of applying market principles to public institutions, their assumptions about the mission of education seem at times perilously venal, at times breathlessly idealistic. If higher education assesses its outcomes by counting jobs graduates fill in areas of their academic majors (as Fox Valley Tech College does), then colleges will have to change their missions to concentrate on training students for particular careers. Since the federal Department of Labor predicts that today's graduates will switch careers five to seven times during their lives, changing missions might guarantee colleges an endless supply of (the same) students. But is getting a better job the raison d'être for higher education?

As noted, Osborne & Gaebler several times mention the necessity of informed constituent participation in revising government. Widespread participatory democracy in America would indeed revolutionize the country, and the successful changes Osborne & Gaebler report--especially in schools--have occurred because they had voter participation as well as voter support. The authors also say that crisis, often fiscal, usually spurs reforms, and Montana's university system apparently faces fiscal crisis. But to assume that crisis will engender voter participation may be a mistake. Nationally, the last publicized fiscal crisis, the $700 billion savings & loan scam, was foisted onto the public by Congress, at a cost of about $2500 to every American. Several years later, no public outcry has developed, no grass-roots reform movement.

Montana faces this same dangerous apathy. Will Montanans educate themselves about university system choices and their consequences? The danger is that they will simply accept opinions like those of the Great Falls Tribune, which says (editorial, 23 August 1993) that even though consolidating Western and UM didn't quite work, the regents have to "make sure it works this time" by "forcing greater efficiency." This is exactly the command-and-rule strategy which Osborne & Gaebler say does not work. And teachers in the system will not derive much comfort from the state's list of cost-saving measures that appeared in the Tribune 24 August 1993 (2A). Under education, the single greatest savings (estimated at $84 million) will come from increasing faculty workloads; this is speedup, in anyone's language.

Governor Racicot seems sincere in his desire to reform the university system along the lines of the best experiments that Reinventing Government presents. But Osborne & Gaebler warn that strategic planning assumes a rational environment which "never exists in government" (235), largely because politicians are concerned only with the next election. In an interview for this article, Governor Racicot said that a successful restructuring of the university system will depend on trust among the reformers; good faith collaboration among faculty, administrators, and regents; a willingness to reexamine education outcomes; and empowerment of faculty in university governance issues.

Evidently, restructuring is coming. College teachers will benefit from remembering that in the private sector, restructuring usually means laying off workers. Osborne & Gaebler mention General Motors' downsizing which eliminated 75,000 workers, and since their book went to press, IBM has downsized at least 30,000 workers, Apple 2,500, and Kodak some 11,000. Faculty had better involve themselves in this restructuring. Otherwise what they are likely to get is administrative rhetoric and pink slips.

“Reinventing Government” by Donald Kettl

Such concept as the reinvention of the government has always been a subject of thorough sociological analysis. Overall, this notion can be discussed from several perspectives such as for instance administrative and political. Traditionally, it implies some radical or even revolutionary changes in society and state machinery. However, this belief is based on common misconception, because this transformation does not necessarily require some violent measures, which can lead only to another totalitarian regime.

Probably, it is more prudent to regard it as some evolutionary and consequently gradual and very slow change, as Donald Kettl believes (Kettl, 1994, p. 3). The common mistake, which people so often make, is that they try to achieve only quick results, paying practically no attention to the long-term policies. Later, it leads them to the conviction that reforms are useless, because their impacts are not obvious. The thing is that the consequence of such reforms can manifest themselves only after a considerable amount of time. Unfortunately, this fact is often overlooked even by the government officials, who think that the transformation is something unrealistic or even dangerous, just because they fail to see the essence of this procedure.

The main purpose of this report is to describe the process of reinvention, which took place in the United States in the early nineties. In his book Reinventing Government? , Donald Kettl presents close examination of this problem. He argues that certain aspects of reforms were rather beneficial and the citizens of the United States felt some improvement in the quality of their lives. Yet, the strategies and techniques, which Clinton administration employed were often inconsistent with each other, thus, they did not reach the goals, which were initially set. Another point, which the author makes, Albert Gore (the major ideologists of the reinvention) and his supporters did not develop clear vision, and thus they had to face many unexpected obstacles.

The main thesis, which Donald Kettl puts forward, is that such restructuring can never be fully implemented if it comes from top to bottom; on the contrary, it is a two-sided process, which necessitates collaboration of both the government and low-standing officials (Kettl, 1994, p. 43). Besides, the reforms are very unlikely to be put into practice, if they are not supported by the public, so it is of the crucial importance to win the confidence of American people, without whom the state becomes utterly senseless. According to the author, one of the underlying causes of failure, was that the president administration did not secure citizens support. On the whole, we may say that this book provides deep insights into the process of restructuring and its peculiarities. The hypothesis, which Donald Kettl proposes, is supported by statistical data, which indicates that at certain stages, the government made errors, which eventually downgraded their achievements. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this research work can prove very helpful to every student, majoring in sociology, political science, or management. However, we have so admit that some of the authors ideas seem to be rather controversial, especially it concerns his views on “customer-oriented state”.

Donald Kettl believes that the reinvention of the government has many dimensions, and it is possible to single out many aspects or stressing problems that should be addressed by the reforms. While describing the policies, pursued by Bill Clinton and Al Gore, the scholar finds a very interesting way to describe their main objective. He says that they wanted to create “a more customer-oriented government” (Kettl, 1994, p. 28).

Naturally, this definition is very original, because it throws a new light on the relations between the countrys citizens and the state, itself. Nonetheless, it is worth mentioning that such approach can be easily questioned, because the customer may choose from different options, especially, if we are speaking about competitive market. In this case, one can hardly observe any competence and the state can dictate its terms to the citizens. The thing is that under certain occasions, the government can function almost independently, irrespective of the citizens needs and demands. The reforms, carried out in the United States, were primarily aimed at improving the quality of the services, which the state provides to its clients (citizens), but due to some mistakes in the organization this reforms were not put into practice as efficiently as it could be. It should be taken into account the scholar does not downgrade the net effect of the policies, yet he accurately points out their drawbacks and outlines possible ways of avoiding them. We would not make far-fetched statement that similar attempts to reinvent the government of the Unites States will be made in the near future, and the tips, given by the author in his work are almost invaluable.

While describing the measures, taken by Clinton administration, Donald Kettl often uses rather commercial terms. He says that the government was trying to increase its productivity. In this respect, it should be noted that there are virtually no quantitative methods that can measure such thing as the efficiency of the government. The scholar believes that even in its core, the reinvention had certain defect, in particular, the problem of evaluation, because, it is not always possible to assess the productivity by means of numerical analysis (Kettl, 1994, p 37). Partly, this is the reason why so many people including high-ranking officials think that the reinvention is impractical and it will have only detrimental results on the quality of life in the country.

We may single out the following aspects or facets of reinvention in the United States. First and foremost, it was necessary to downsize the federal the state machinery (Kettl, 1994, p 22). Perhaps, one may say to simplify the state mechanism and make them more accessible and convenient for the general public. In early nineties, an average citizen had to overcome almost insurmountable bureaucratic difficulties. In comparison with that period, the situation has changed for the better, but it still leaves very much to be desired, because the remnants of bureaucratic machinery are still very noticeable.

In order to eliminate them, the government was forced to reduce the number of civilian officers because newly-created agencies hold every member of the personell, but this policy had far-reaching consequences: the reduction of the staff gave rise to the unemployment in the country, which in turn created some kind of vicious circle, almost impossible to break: the government tried to jobsites by expanding the federal agencies, which were previously supposed to be simplified.

The scholar argues that the administration should have focused on the qualitative changes, not quantitative ones. For example, he says that it was necessary to encourage customization in the federal agencies. Certainly, some efforts were made, but they were insufficient.

Apart from that, Donald Kettl is firmly convinced that Al Gore and his supporters did not win peoples confidence; the benefits of the reform were not made popular to the US taxpayers, that is why at some stages, appeals of the government were entirely lost upon Americans, who did not fully understood the purpose of reinvention and its positive sides.

Furthermore, the scholar presumes that these policies could have been more effective, if the government had been unanimous in its efforts. The major problem was that at some moments the actions of several federal agencies practically contradicted each other, which significantly decreased the net result. Moreover, the legislative acts, proposed by Al Gore and his team were animatedly debated by the Republican Party, although there was almost no reasonable ground for the rejection of these laws.

Donald Kettl places special emphasis on the idea of political unanimity, because without it any political or administrative reform will yield no benefit, even if it is constructive. Certainly, one cannot say that the author specifically focuses on this particular aspect, but it is possible to deduce from his argument that the reforms could have lived up the expectations, if political leaders could have set aside their private interests. Overall, we need to say that the failure of the Reinvention can be ascribed to some objectives and subjective reasons. The first group includes failures in the planning, whereas the second one comprises political controversies and the difficulties, connected with them.

According to Donald Kettl, the process of restructuring can be subdivided into several stages or phases, which he calls in a very interesting way 1) Works Better, Costs Less, 2) What Should Government Do?; 3) Search for Political Relevance (Kettle, 1994, p. 32). To some extent each title depicts the purpose, which the presidents team wanted to reach. Naturally, one cannot say that this division is the only one acceptable, but it seems that such approach helps to get a clear understanding of the reinvention and its essence.

As it has been said earlier, the government wanted to simplify the state mechanisms; this simplification served several purposes: first, it made the services of federal agencies more available to the public, and secondly, it allowed to reduce the countrys expenses. At first glance, such method may seem to be quite reasonable, because its obvious impacts are quite attractive, and some bureaucratic barriers can be overcome by the reduction of the staff in federal agencies, but it also entails unemployment. According to Donald Kettl, thousands of federal employees were dismissed. Moreover, in accordance with the Federal Streamlining Act, which was signed into law in 1994, every federal agency was obliged to adapt itself to the customers (or citizens) needs. As the author says it was obliged to customize itself. Again, we need to acknowledge that some aspects of this law were not developed to perfection (Kettl, 1994, p. 35).

First, it should be borne in mind that at that time federal institutions were not quite ready for such change. They were not used to treating the countrys citizens as customers or clients. Such transition was almost inconceivable to them. Donald Kettl suggests that some preliminary measures should have been taken, before restructuring and the implementation of reforms, namely providing extra training to the government officials and employees. Another aspect, which should be discussed, is the attitude of the federal agencies towards the customization. In the overwhelming majority of cases, every person is inclined to resent any sudden or unexpected changes. This is why many federal officials looked at these innovations with some apprehension, uncertainty or even fear.

Donald Kettl sets the stress on the gradualness of this process. One simply could not expect quick results from these reforms, but Clinton administation focused mostly on short term achievements and forgot about long-standing objectives, which made their efforts less effective.

Besides, many workers, who were working in the state sector, could not adjust themselves to such relations, because such new approach requires special training, which was obviously lacking. This is why at the second and third stages, Clinton administration had to face severe protests of the Republicans and certain discontent of the general public. The author believes that the government could have found more optimal ways of implementing its policies. In particular, he speaks about some methods of stimulation, which could have encourage federal and officers to customize their work. His suggestion seems to be quite prudent because any person is more likely to act more effectively, if he or she knows that his efforts will be rewarded. Apparently, the then administration did not share his views on this question and preferred more categorical or even imperative form: federal agencies were just forced to re-organize, and eventually, the reinvention of the government did not fully cope with the assigned task.

Again, we should not forget that Donald Kettl does not think these reforms were unnecessary or useless, the scholar advocates them but he also says that from the very beginning the reinventions of the government committed a vey serious error; they did not make their objectives clear to the public.

In his opinion, they made American citizens mere observers of the procedure, whereas they should be active participants of the reform. The author constructs his argument in the following way: he says that if the citizen is viewed as a customer or client, he or she should definitely take part in the reinvention. He says that clients usually collaborate with service-providers in various ways. They not only receive their services but evaluate the quality of their companys work and sometimes make rather helpful suggestions (Kettle, 1994, p. 48). Donald Kettl thinks that the reformers did not take these factors into consideration.

It stands to reason that the authors argument has many reasonable points, but it is not quite clear how we can call federal agencies “customer-oriented”. If we try to discuss this issue within the commercial framework, we should first speak about competence, because a client is entitled to decline the services of the company, if he or she is dissatisfied with their quality. The question arises is possible for decline the services of federal agencies and do without them. Certainly, sometimes, a citizen can act in this way but such cases are very rare and not always legal. Thus, it is quite possible for us to say that the formulation customer-oriented is not always applicable to state machinery.

To conclude, in his book Reinventing Government, Donald takes a very close look at such phenomenon as the reinvention of the government, and the difficulties, which arise in connection with these reforms. He believes that in early nineties American government should have paid more attention to the qualitative changes in their work. He stresses the importance of public support, regarding it as one of the necessary conditions for the success of the program. Nevertheless, we need to mention his concept of customer-oriented government, because it its essence, it is rather controversial.


Donald F. Kettl, National Performance Review (U.S.), Brookings Institution (1994).

Reinventing government?: appraising the National Performance Review. Center for Public Management, Brookings Institution.

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25 years later, what happened to 'reinventing government', the ambitious public management crusade of the 1990s has made a mark on governments everywhere. but it’s fallen short of some of its goals..


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Reinventing Government: A Principle-Driven Reform Initiative

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Background .  Several days earlier, the three of us had been invited to share our ideas on how the vice president might proceed with his new mandate from the president to “reinvent the government,” where the vice president had to deliver a plan of action to the president in six months.  Gore’s newly-appointed advisor, Elaine Kamarck, received the task of getting this off the ground and she had invited the three of us to talk with her, based on the advice of David Osborne, a co-author of the best-selling book Reinventing Government .

We shared our ideas of what the Vice President should focus on and how he might organize the reform effort, which was to be led by civil servants and not the traditional reform approach of turning to distinguished outside business leaders. We were surprised when Kamarck asked us to share ideas with the vice president on the upcoming Sunday, when he had a break in his calendar.

Learn how Jonathan Breul, Mark Abramson, and John Kamensky all assisted in Reinventing Government - John Kamensky explains!

So, Bob Stone invited Knisely and I over to his house on Saturday to sketch out what we would advise the Vice President to do.  Our visit with Kamarck was the first time I’d been in the Old Executive Office Building, nor had I ever been in the White House and or met a president or vice president before.  When invited by Kamarck to meet with the vice president, I immediately informed my boss at the General Accounting Office (now the Government Accountability Office) and was told that it was more appropriate for the Comptroller General to meet with the Vice President.  I was okay with that, but Kamarck insisted that I be in the meeting, not my boss’s boss’s boss!

We covered different elements of what could make for a successful reform program.  My advice was largely organizational and process-driven, based on lessons from prior federal reform efforts and visits to see reform initiatives in other countries, Bob Stone’s insights were based on his experience in helping run the Defense Department’s military installations (Stone was the career deputy assistant secretary in charge of all military bases). Bob Knisely’s discussed how to engage the federal workforce, drawing from his experience working as a career senior executive in a range of civilian agencies across the government.

Stone advocated grounding the effort in a set of principles that would inspire civil servants to want to lead the reforms.  He had led a similar strategy to inspire successful change in the operations of military bases and thought this would work on a governmentwide reform initiative.

We developed what we called the “Gold Card” with a vision statement: “Create a Government That Works Better and Costs Less.” This was supported by four principles and a set of strategies for acting on those principles.  These were based partly on what Stone had developed for his Model Installations military reform initiative, partly on Osborne’s reinventing government principles, and partly on the then-popular Total Quality Management principles.

Vision :  Create a government that works better and costs less

Principles: We will invent a government that puts people first, by-

  • Putting Customers First
  • Cutting Red Tape
  • Empowering Employees to Get Results
  • Cutting Back to Basics

Strategies. We will -

  • Create a clear sense of mission
  • Steer more, row less
  • Delegate authority and responsibility
  • Help communities solve their own problems
  • Replace regulations with incentives
  • Develop budgets based on outcomes
  • Inject competition into everything we do
  • Search for market, not administrative, solutions
  • Measure our successes by customer satisfactions

Gore bought into the use of a principles-driven reform initiative, intuitively understanding that large scale change would need to be driven by a compelling vision and principles – not by proposals to reorganize the government. In fact, he told us “don’t move boxes, fix what’s inside the boxes.”

Gore recruited us on the spot to help run the Review. These principles and strategies guided the work of nearly 300 people working on the NPR team to produce a set of action-oriented recommendations by September 1993 for the President to announce publicly.  But more importantly, the principles became the driving force for the subsequent implementation of the reinventing government effort over the following eight years.

What Does This Teach Leaders Today About Reform Initiatives? In any large-scale transformation effort, leaders can’t be everywhere and explain their ideas to each employee. Developing a compelling vision, with guiding principles and strategies that are meaningful to individuals, allows them to translate and adapt them to their own workplaces.

Prior reform efforts, such as the Hoover Commission’s emphasis on economy, efficiency, and effectiveness, centered on priorities important to the President, the Congress, and the public.  But they didn’t necessarily engage Federal employees.  Creating a reform agenda that allows civil servants to see themselves as part of the reform can be a huge force-multiplier in getting action from all corners of the government, in which officials at all levels carry out their missions to serve the Nation quietly and effectively.

Want to Know More? To help government employees understand how they could act on the principles developed by NPR in their own workplace, a video was subsequently developed to explain them – and the Vice President narrated the video.  Here are links to the video (now on YouTube):

Part 1 (9:47): Empower Employees to Get Results

Part 2 (9:54): Put Customers First

Part 3 (6:26): Cut Red Tape

Part 4 (6:49): Cut Back to Basics

By the way, if even further interested in the organization and evolution of the National Performance Review, its website was preserved by the National Archives in its “cyber cemetery”. The website is a bit quaint; it was one of the first 100 websites in the world when first created, and the final report to the President in 1993 was the first government document posted on the web.

And for a more personal twist, listen to our short Podcast interview:

Business of Government Stories

The past 30 years provides important lessons both for today’s leaders and for those of future administrations. Little has been written about the role leaders and teams have played in the evolution of management reforms. We are starting a series called “Business of Government Stories” where we will narrate the stories of many of the most influential events that have shaped government over the past generation. Our series will focus on the people behind this management evolution and feature a podcast with reflections on the stories behind these reforms.

Learn more about our stories and read previous posts.

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Reinventing Government: New Public Management

Reinventing Government: New Public Management

The concept of reinventing government involves transforming the government into a more efficient and effective entity. This process takes strategic government reforms, as explained by Osborne. The theory of New Public Management emphasizes the importance of management and partnership between the public and private sector to improve government performance and service delivery. Osborne and Gabbler introduced 10 principles for reinventing government, such as separating policy and service delivery functions to ensure cost-effectiveness and quality services provision. The principles aim to improve the effectiveness of government service and practices by empowering communities, focusing on outcomes, meeting customer needs, and leveraging change through market mechanisms.

The term “reinventing government” refers to the complete remake or redoing of the government. In order for a government to be effective and efficient, it is believed that strategic reforms are necessary. According to Osborne (2007), reinventing government requires a long journey and strategic thinking.

Reinventing government is not a simple task, but rather a complex and lengthy journey towards success. In a paper titled “Is There a Philippine Public Administration” presented by Brilliants, Jar, and Fernando, the concept of reinventing government is closely linked to New Public Management (PM). The paper highlights the significance of effective management and collaboration between the public and private sectors. The aim of this theory is to enhance the performance of public personnel and ensure efficient delivery of services to the general public.

In the pursuit of government reform and reinvention, Osborne and Gabbler (1992) presented a set of 10 principles for reinventing government. These principles were deemed crucial for enhancing the efficiency of government service and practices.

  • Catalytic government – separating steering (policy and regulatory functions) from rowing (service delivery and compliance functions)
  • Community oriented government – empowering rather than serving: in other words, enabling the community to serve their own needs, rather than the direct provision of services for them
  • Competitive government – injecting competition into service delivery to ensure cost-effectiveness and quality services provision meeting the needs of the market
  • Mission-driven government – transforming rules-and- procedures-driven organizations into entities that are clear on their missions and mandates, and have few Internal obstacles In the way of accomplishing them
  • Results-oriented government – funding outcomes, not Inputs
  • Customer-driven government – meeting the needs of the customer, not the bureaucracy
  • Enterprising government – earning rather than spending
  • Anticipatory government prevention rather than cure
  • Decentralized government from hierarchy to participation and teamwork
  • Market-oriented government – leveraging change through market mechanisms

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Really Reinventing Government

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The National Partnership for Reinventing Government and the President's Management Agenda NPR was the longest initiative ever, in the history of the US federal government. NPR was replaced by PMA in 2001 by President George W. Bush. NPR and PMA had several similarities as well as differences. The two aimed to improve the way the federal government functioned by making it more result oriented. They were meant to ensure that the American receive the prime services that they deserved for being Americans.

They had similar initiative that they both managed to achieve albeit to varying extents. For instance they targeted at reducing the size of the government and government spending, serving the citizens better, improving government approach to communities, instituting governance, improving human resource practices of the federal government, enhancing its financial management systems and changing the government approach to businesses. The most notable and obvious difference is that they were enacted by two different administrations. The former was enacted by the Clinton administration while the later was a Bush initiative. PMA simply built on the initiatives of NPR and therefore employed a lot more improved approaches and wider scope than NPR.

The success of these initiatives is mostly a product of the strategic planning that was involved in the preparatio and implementation of the plans. Indeed, as Cohen, Eimicke, & Heikkila (2008) notes strategic planning is necessary for the success of government, public and non-profit organizations initiative the same way it is for businesses. Reinventing Government: suitable approach The way most governments operate leaves a lot to be desired. Most governments around the world, including our own, consistently fail to meet the expectations of the governed.

The governments are run by bureaucrats and politicians who introduce market forces as caution to fiscal pressure and end up creating government enterprises that are monopolistic in nature. Boyne 2002 associate the bureaucracy in government agencies as a product of the governments wide mission and its natural autonomous political authority. In reinventing the government it would be very productive to apply the business customer service model to governing the country thus the customer centered approach. The government should behave like a business taking care of its citizens the way businesses take car of their customer. This way reinventing the government aims at improving the quality of governance the resultant services.

A customer sensitive government is one that is accountable to its citizens. It provides the citizens with a wide range of services thus widening their choices. The choices arre competitive and the customers are assured of the quality. As Osborne and Gaebler (1993) suggest the government should be result oriented generative in outcomes instead of concentrating on input. The government should further seek to meet the citizens' needs and shun bureaucracy.

A government that is citizen oriented will empower the people by improving their capacity to fend for their need instead of only delivering services to them The aim of this approach is ensuring accountability. In fact accountability is the main lever behind citizen oriented governance (Osborne, 2007). In other words, the government and other organization are full responsible of the effects of their activities. Manager and worker in various government agencies and political office therefore have to take full responsibility of their activities as well as bare responsibility of anything the goes wrong under their docket.

Indeed a customer or citizen oriented approach of governance should be encouraged since it targets people, ensuring that the government and its agencies play their role and take responsibility for their actions. It also ensures that people are empowered to fend for themselves other than solely depending on the government, but as Boyne opined, it is necessary to uphold a certain level of bureaucracy to enable agencies and organizations protect their activities to facilitate their accountability.

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