Putting Principles into Practice

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Putting the management principles outlined in Vice President Al Gore's reinvention manifesto, the "Blair House Papers," into practice will be a struggle, a gathering of 700 federal executives, managers and employees learned Tuesday. One way to make it easier is to ask a lot of people for their advice, a key administration official said.

The National Performance Review sponsored a free conference Tuesday in Bethesda, Md. for federal employees to learn how to apply Vice President Gore's "Blair House Papers" to the way they and their agencies work. "Blair House Papers" is a 43-page "little red book" produced by Gore earlier this year that outlines 15 steps to improving government operations.

Speaking at the conference, John Koskinen, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, said managers must listen to their employees to find out how to improve their agencies' operations.

"The only way to really have power is to give it up," Koskinen said. Managers need to avoid the "I'm in charge and I'm supposed to know what to do" mindset.

In addition to asking people within the agency for ideas, managers can learn from the experiences of people in other agencies.

Agency representatives from throughout government described their efforts to improve the way they do business. In a session on communication and information technology, Raymona L. Stickell, the national director for the Internal Revenue Service's multimedia production division, explained that the IRS provides its services in numerous formats--on paper, by phone, by fax, on CD-ROM, and on the Internet--to accommodate its customers' needs.

Susan Smoter, the program manager for the U.S. Postal Service's Web Interactive Network of Government Services (WINGS) project, said personal attention is key. When a man e-mailed Smoter's office because he didn't know how to renew his automobile tags after he lost his registration, an employee in the WINGS office contacted the department of motor vehicles in the man's area and got him the information.

"We have to take off our agency hats and work for the common good," Smoter said.

Representatives of the General Services Administration and the Office of Personnel Management held a session on new flexibilities and how the two central agencies can help other agencies. The representatives did not discuss specific flexibilities, instead offering broad advice on customer service and empowerment.

Rich Gudaitis, GSA's strategic planning coordinator, told conference participants they must surpass their customers' expectations.

"They want to be thrilled," Gudaitis said. "What they don't want to be is satisfied."

To stress that point, Gudaitis said people could call him directly if they have trouble with GSA. "If you've got a problem with GSA, call me," he said.

Bob Stone, the director of the National Performance Review, introduced a companion guide to the "Blair House Papers" called "Getting Results Through Learning," published by the Federal Human Resources Council. The "little green book" describes how managers can create a healthy "learning environment" for themselves and their employees.

"Managers have to become students," Stone said.

One conference participant asked OMB's Koskinen how agencies are expected to comply with the numerous reform initiatives the administration and Congress have imposed in recent years: the Government Performance and Results Act, the Information Technology Management Reform Act, reinvention, quality management, reengineering and now the "Blair House Papers."

Koskinen said it is the "ultimate management challenge" to figure out how to synthesize all of those efforts.

"They should dovetail," Koskinen said. He warned that agencies should not create a bunch of separate groups to comply with the reform plans Congress and the administration pass down because then all agencies would have instead of real reform is a whole set of compliance reports. Agencies should have a "unified division" to work on management reform, Koskinen said.

But he admitted it is not an easy task.

"We're all struggling with learning how to work better," Koskinen said.

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