Editor's Notebook

tclark@govexec.com

Timothy B. Clark

Buried beneath the news of trillion-dollar surpluses last month were two items of not-so-good news for those who care about our public sector.

First, the National Academy of Public Administration released a report decrying the cynicism and distrust that characterizes many citizens' view of their government. "Americans love their country and its Constitution, but many do not like and do not trust their government," said the report, adding that the "very high levels and deep resilience of civic distrust in recent decades do not appear . . . to be routine or benign."

To reduce distrust of elected officials and strengthen the civil service, NAPA called for "rationalization of our ethics laws and their enforcement mechanisms, improved salaries and benefits for key public employees carrying exceptional responsibilities and leadership burdens, a reduction in hostility in the Senate confirmation process, and improved nurturing and cultivation of the senior civil service." And it urged agencies to focus on customer service in order to combat citizens' belief that government often fails to produce results.

Separately, the Pricewaterhouse- Coopers Endowment for the Business of Government released a survey of Senior Executive Service members identifying compensation as a major problem in recruiting and retaining capable people for top civil service jobs.

"The current federal executive compensation system clearly is a 'worst practice'-a system in which executive compensation is severely compressed and capped, and one that provides few incentives for performance," said Ian Littman, co-chairman of the endowment.

With trust so low, and keeping the right people in place to run important enterprises so difficult, one answer might be just to close up shop. That's the drift at NASA. The once-proud premier research-and-development agency is selling itself off to the private sector, as we report this month. Its leaders are probing a new frontier in privatization, where almost anything is up for sale.

But there is good news as well. Last month's Excellence in Government '99 conference was full of it-inspiring tales of many agencies' efforts to improve service to the public. More than 1,000 of your colleagues came together at the conference, which was the product of more than a year's planning and work.

As lead organizers, we at Government Executive owe a debt of gratitude to the 11 organizations that joined us as hosts: Vice President Al Gore's National Partnership for Reinventing Government, the Office of Personnel Management, the American Federation of Government Employees, the National Treasury Employees Union, the Council for Excellence in Government, the National Academy of Public Administration, the American Society for Public Administration, The Brookings Institution, The George Washington University, the Innovations in American Government Program-co-sponsored by Harvard and the Ford Foundation-and the Association for Quality and Participation.

And the conference could not have fulfilled its educational promise without support from corporations that got behind the effort: American Management Systems, Anser, Arthur D. Little, Bank of America, BMC Software, CDWG, Keane, Logicon, Microsoft, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Visa. Thanks go to them as well.

Tim sig2 5/3/96
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