The Next Government

Dr. Don Kettl

Dr. Don Kettl

This past week, I missed a hearing that seemed to be 2008’s version of the reinvention hearing, featuring a series of speakers offering insights on what the next administration might do to improve government performance.  But the wonders of the internet allowed me to find out what happened.  It was held by a Senate subcommittee and featured Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, Dr. Donald Kettl, staff from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and several federal agencies executives.


Governor O’Malley described his Maryland “State-Stat” approach to fostering improved performance on statewide priorities.  GAO described the results of its recent survey of federal employees on their use of performance information, federal agencies offered their performance initiatives.  But Dr. Kettl spoke more cosmically.  He’s writing a book called “The Next Government of the United States,” and his testimony captured the high points of the book, and the challenges of management reform facing the next president:


·      “There is no obvious next step in reforming the government.”  He observes that for the first time in decades, the next step in management reform is not clear, there is no road map (but he later begins to offer one!).


·      We have run the natural course of current management reforms.” He describes cyclical patterns of reforms over the past 125 years and concludes: “There is no best seller, no ideological prescription, no buzzword.”  He notes that the last cycle of reforms (Reagan through G.W. Bush) used structural reorganization and procedural changes to improve efficiency, but that these tools are likely to be ineffective against the problems looming ahead.


·      “The costs for failing to develop the next generation of management reforms will be large and punishing.”  He notes that September 11 and Hurricane Katrina showed that our existing strategies for running the federal government are not up to the challenges of the 21st century.


·      ’Simply continuing the reform efforts of the last two administrations will prove inadequate.”  Efforts to create accountability around programs or agencies (Program Assessment Rating Tool, Government Performance and Results Act), or efforts to create accountability around administrative processes or functions (President’s Management Agenda, Chief Information Officers, Chief Financial Officers) “are increasingly a poor match for the problems we are trying to solve.”


·      “We now need a new reform effort that focuses squarely on promoting collaboration among agencies instead of pursuing more strategies that reinforce existing stovepipes.”  He says “the federal government must increasingly bring a place-based and person-driven focus to its traditionally functional approach.”  He pointed to Governor O’Malley’s “State-Stat” approach as one way of doing this.


·      “We know how to do this.”  This reform effort, Kettl notes, is being used.  He pointed to government executives, such as Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who led the collaborative response to Hurricane Katrina after FEMA failed in its effort.


Dr. Kettl says the next president needs to build on, not scrap, past reforms.  Action steps include: 


·      Put a presidential focus on outcomes, especially on those reaching across agency boundaries.

·      Develop a geographic-information-system-based set of performance measures.  He believes this will drive collaboration across functional boundaries to produce results citizens expect.

·      Have the Office of Personnel Management invest in the nation’s government managers to make them better results-driven leaders.

·      Create a White House performance czar – someone in the immediate office of the president – whose sole job is to focus the efforts of the executive branch on producing results.


While Kettl’s ideas may seem, well, academic or idealistic, many are actually underway in some respects.  For example, the Key National Indicators Initiative will have a geographic-based set of performance measures.  The key element, however, will be a presidential commitment.


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3 Responses to “The Next Government”

  1. Norman M. Macdonald Says:

    What the next administration will be facing is a Civil Service that has had it’s human and material infrastructures gutted to a point of no return. We should be talking on how and what the rebuilding should be based on not on reinventing or cosmic ideas. I am a 75 year old retired Federal Civil Servant who spent 47 years in the DC area and was involved in a number of cross departmental project including a long term detail to the National Performance Review (reinventing government). I have lived for the last four years in the Verde Valley of Northern Arizona and have been active with a number of nonprofits plus keeping contact with folks I worked with on reinvention.
    What I have observed is a movement towards collaboration between the local feds, nonprofits and local governments which is aided by various interest specific electronic networks. It is a ground up approach that is being feed by sheer necessity. Web 2.0 seems to be part of the equation. This is the basis for a ground up approach that would move the Federal Government toward the “radical center”

  2. Alan Feinberg Says:

    I am working on an initiative to send an open letter to Vivek Kundra,

    President Obama’s new information technology advisor, about the

    Department of Homeland Security plan for St Elizabeths. Will you join

    me in this?

    The letter will argue thoughtfully and succinctly that this plan,

    which would concentrate DHS staff in a massive and costly new

    Anacostia headquarters, is a bad idea in terms of national security as

    well as financially and environmentally.

    It will urge instead a fiberoptic-connected dispersal of DHS around

    the Capital Region in offices located near where staff already live.

    The letter will criticize obsolete government thinking that favors

    enormous, centralized structures. It will contend that forced

    centralization is unlikely to solve the organizational-culture

    problems that have prevented security agencies from collaborating

    better. Instead, DHS leaders must instead manage smarter and share

    information better.

    The letter will criticize the idea that the DHS plan is an economic

    solution for the District, arguing instead that Ward 8, DC’s poorest

    ward, won’t be revitalized until it’s made part of a real solution,

    which is a creative regional economic development plan. It will also

    take issue with the immense financial cost of the proposed compound

    and its environmental cost as a com
    muter magnet.

    A major aim of the document will be to elevate the DHS discussion from

    a local issue to the national issue (at White House level) that it

    deserves to be. There is more to this important matter than the

    District issues that have been dominating recent discussion of it.

    I believe an appropriately crafted document may be able to help save

    the Government from a costly mistake which, once made, will be very

    difficult and expensive to fix.

    I have asked my friend the writer N.J. Slabbert to produce a first

    draft of the letter for discussion with concerned associates. He has

    previously published well-researched articles about this matter in The

    Washington Post, The Harvard International Review, Homeland Security

    Today and Urban Land Magazine.

    Please let me know whether you are interested to work with us on this,

    and to co-sign an appropriately worded letter aimed at helping the

    Government make a wise decision, and at elevating this into a White

    House matter as it deserves to be.

    Sincerely Yours,

    Alan Feinberg, RA, AICP

    Frederick, MD

    (301) 606.6717

  3. John Kamensky Says:

    Hi Alan — Thanks for the invite. We at the IBM Center cannot join you in drafting your letter, but there may be other readers who may see merit in your idea that a distributed homeland security effort may be more effective than a centralized homeland security effort!

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