The end of reinventing government as we know it

The Clinton administration's National Partnership for Reinventing Government (NPR) has set four priorities for what may be its final year in operation.

The NPR's four goals are improving citizen satisfaction with federal services, expanding Internet-based government, boosting interagency cooperation and "embedding reinvention in the culture of government," said Morley Winograd, director of NPR.

Winograd said the leaders of NPR have begun thinking about what will happen to their organization next year when a new administration takes power, but said no final decisions have been made. In the meantime, NPR aims to convince federal employees and managers that reinvention strategies, from labor-management partnerships to plain language writing to customer-focused operations, are worth continuing in the future. The most satisfied employees in government work in agencies that have taken the reinvention effort seriously, Winograd said.

In addition, NPR hopes to increase the average federal agency score on the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), which both private companies and government organizations use to gauge the quality of their work. NPR wants to raise the government's average score on the ASCI's 100-point scale from 69 in 1999 to 72, the average score for private companies.

One way to do that is to offer more services via the Internet, and NPR will seek to expand "electronic government" initiatives, including Web portals such as Access America for Students, from which college-age students can access information from various agencies. NPR will also seek to improve interagency cooperation offline. For example, the organization is coordinating an interagency effort on reducing gun violence.

Virginia Thomas, senior fellow for government studies at the Heritage Foundation, said NPR has lost focus from its original mission, which, she says, was to look at "every single government program and agency to find and eliminate things that don't need to be done by the federal government."

"They really haven't done that analysis and asked those tough questions," Thomas said. "They can't claim credit for reducing the size or functions of government. I'm sure there are some small achievements that would not have happened had the Vice President not focused so many people and so many resources. I just can't think of any of them."

In a statement, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, chaired by Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., echoed Thomas' criticism of NPR's efforts. The committee also said NPR should focus on improving federal programs designated as high-risk by the General Accounting Office and make sure agencies have meaningful performance measures.

"Clearly, the government has too much on its plate now to do it all well," the committee said. "We must take a comprehensive and fresh look at the current crazy quilt of government agencies and programs."

After seven years in existence, NPR claims credit for downsizing the federal workforce by 350,000 positions and improving government efficiency to the tune of $137 billion in savings. The General Accounting Office disputes the latter figure.

Vice President Al Gore's campaign literature touts those successes and others, and says that reinvention would continue if he is elected.

"Al Gore wants to finish the job of transforming government for the Information Age, and getting rid of all the waste and redundancy. It is one of the primary reasons he is running for President," the literature says.

But if Gore doesn't win the presidency, the future of reinvention is less clear.

"If anyone other than Al Gore sits in the Oval Office in January 2001, one of the new President's early acts will be to abolish the National Partnership for Reinventing Government," University of Wisconsin scholar Don Kettl wrote in the January issue of Government Executive. "However, that will have to lead to its re-creation (under a different name) soon thereafter. The pressures for reforming federal management won't evaporate."

Mark Abramson, director of the PricewaterhouseCoopers Endowment for the Business of Government, said he is surprised that NPR is maintaining a high energy level into the final year of the Clinton administration.

"They're still going strong and really want to solidify their gains," Abramson said.

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