Planning and Execution

As public programs grow more intricate, individual initiative is still essential.

Over the past decade, scholars critical of industrial-age bureaucracy have rallied around a performance- and results-based approach to meeting public sector goals that relies significantly on alliances with other institutions.

Donald Kettl, now a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, encapsulated the essence of the new theory in the millennial issue of Government Executive. "Government's traditional processes and organizations have become more marginal to the big debates," he wrote in January 2001, "from how much we pay for health care to how we solve the really tough problems-such as poverty. New processes and institutions-often nongovernmental ones-have become more central to public policy."

The complexities that confront federal officials implementing big new programs are the subject of two features in this issue. They deal with the most ambitious domestic endeavors the federal government has taken on in many years: the No Child Left Behind Act and Medicare's prescription drug program.

Brian Friel looks at the education program through the eyes of Joel Klein, chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, who is implementing the law's testing and sanctions regime. The federal government is counting on Klein, who in turn needs buy-in from many actors in the sprawling school system. He sees the challenge as nothing less than "a test of our ability to make government work."

Kimberly Palmer tells the story of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' huge outreach that enlisted hundreds of organizations to roll out a program now serving nearly 40 million Americans. The grass-roots agenda the agency organized, CMS administrator Mark McClellan told Palmer, will bring "a lasting change in how this agency operates, because we've seen that we can make the programs work better with these close connections."

The measures of success these new and complex programs have enjoyed can be attributed to careful planning and execution. Other federal programs, such as those dealing with disaster preparation, cannot be so proud, as Zack Phillips amusingly recounts in his report on security spending this month.

We think of government programs as huge endeavors run by complex organizations, but there's no denying the power of the individual to make a big difference. For the fifth year, we celebrate stars of the civil service, nine winners of this year's Service to America Medals program. A photograph of one of these leaders, Nancy Cox, graces our cover. Congratulations to all. Their stories will carry across the nation, not only in our pages, but also those of our sister publications, National Journal and The Atlantic, reaching an audience of more than 1 million readers with the message that in government, as in other institutions, personal initiative is what gets the job done.

Last, but not least, we are excited to introduce a new column in this issue, Shane Harris' "Intelligence File," which will track what's new and hot, known and unknown, in the sometimes secret world of federal intel.

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