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.
Tags: Don Kettl, FEMA, Government Performance and Results Act, Key National Indicators Initiative, Martin O'Malley, Maryland State-Stat, performance, Program Assessment Review Tool, Reinventing Government, Thad Allen