Scholar gives reinventors 'A+' for effort
A leading scholar concludes in a new report that Vice President Al Gore's campaign to reinvent government is one of the most remarkable reform efforts in American history. But reinventors should keep the champagne corked. The most daunting political and management challenges still loom over their heads, the report warns.
Brookings Institution scholar Donald F. Kettl released a report card on Gore's National Partnership for Reinventing Government (NPR), giving the Vice President and his reinventors an overall grade of "B."
"The Clinton administration's sustained attention and the substantial improvements that reinventing government has made are both noteworthy," Kettl writes. "The administration's significant accomplishments to date, however, are just as important in charting the next problems in management reform. Despite reinventing government, the federal government continues to struggle with manifest performance problems, from fraud in Medicare to the safety of meat."
Kettl, a public affairs professor at the University of Wisconsin who also issued an assessment of NPR in 1994, commends the Vice President for giving reinvention sustained support, giving Gore an "A+" for effort. Kettl contends that no executive branch reform in the twentieth century, and perhaps ever, has received such high-level attention for such a long period of time.
Kettl also gives federal reinventors high marks in procurement reform (A) and customer service (B+). He gives the administration a "B" on downsizing, because target reductions were met, but agencies failed to make sure they still had the right set of employees to get their work done. While Kettl applauds Federal Emergency Management Agency Director James Lee Witt for turning FEMA from a management embarrassment to a model for other agencies, the scholar says the highly publicized problems at the Internal Revenue Service show that NPR failed to identify and prevent management disasters.
"There often seem few rewards for government reforms. But there unquestionably is a very high price to pay for administrative disasters," Kettl argues. "The failure of the NPR to detect and prevent the IRS's problems, to penetrate and reinvent its operations, rank as perhaps its most notable failure."
Another problem NPR has faced is the administration's inability to get all its political appointees on the reinvention bandwagon, Kettl writes. "To the degree to which agency-based efforts have fallen short, it has mainly been a problem of inconsistent political leadership."
But the biggest challenges federal reinventors now must confront are measuring performance and ensuring accountability as federal programs are run more and more by private contractors, non-profit organizations and state and local governments.
"The solution lies in crafting broad measures to assess the overall performance of government in achieving broad outcomes-and simultaneously, building specific output measures that assess the contribution of each government agency and all of its partners to those outcomes," Kettl says. "This is a huge problem, daunting as much in its technical difficulty as in its political implications. Yet the tremendous increase in government by proxy-of the pursuit of government policy through a huge interdependent network of partners-gives policymakers little choice."
|Kettl's Reinvention Report Card|
|Identifying objectives of government||D|
|Disaster avoidance (e.g., IRS)||B-|
|Improved results in "high-impact" programs||INC|
|Relations with Congress||D|
|Improvements in citizen confidence in government||C|
|Inspiration from other governments, private-sector reforms||B-|