Clinton administration claims management success

The Clinton administration released an assessment of its chief management accomplishments Tuesday, providing a look at how the administration views its own record of government reform. The administration hailed governmentwide improvements in information security, procurement, financial management and regulatory reform over the last eight years in its assessment, which was included in Clinton's Fiscal 2002 Economic Outlook. The National Partnership for Reinventing Government and the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion were singled out for special kudos. "Management functions are the essentials of government operations," President Clinton wrote in a message accompanying the report. "Doing them very well rarely garners attention. Failing to do them can undermine program and policy effectiveness as certainly as bad policy decisions or inadequate program implementation." In the report, Clinton claimed credit for implementing or broadening several management improvements. For example, the report says that only a few agencies routinely completed financial audits in 1992, but virtually all issue audited statements today and the administration produces an annual governmentwide financial statement. The report also notes that eight years after passage of the Government Performance and Results Act, all 14 cabinet departments and more than 80 independent agencies have prepared two cycles of strategic plans. And, after reducing the federal workforce by 377,000 employees, the administration boasts of cutting the federal workforce to its smallest size since the Eisenhower years. Experts were quick to take issue with some of these claims. The reduction in the workforce was "a shell game of sorts," said Virginia Thomas, senior fellow for government studies at the Heritage Foundation. "The downsizing of government numbers they love to tout is missing an explosion of contract workers that the new team has to decide how to handle," said Thomas. The administration does note in the report that "some argue that the workforce needed to deliver the mission of the federal government also includes uniformed military, postal workers, contractors, grantees and state and local government employees." This statement delighted Paul Light, a Brookings Institution scholar who wrote an analysis of the true size of government in Government Executive in 1999. "They have finally acknowledged that there is a federal workforce hidden from view," said Light. That is "better late than never at all, I say." Thomas also questioned the administration's claim that public trust in government had increased measurably under Clinton's tenure, which was based on a 1998 University of Michigan study that showed that public trust had grown from 21 percent in 1994 to 40 percent in 1998. "I don't think they can claim that honestly," said Thomas, citing a 1999 Council for Excellence in Government study that showed little change in levels of public trust. "I don't think [the Clinton administration] reaped the benefits of streamlining government that could be made with wholesale management reforms," she said. Other governmentwide accomplishments touted by the Clinton administration include:
  • Information Technology: The administration aided implementation of the 1996 Clinger-Cohen Act, which created the position of chief information officer in each agency and tied IT to agency strategic planning decisions. Firstgov, a Web portal that allows 27 million federal Web sites to be searched, was launched in September.
  • Procurement: The government began using performance-based contracting for services and promoted the use of alternative dispute resolution methods to reduce the number of bid protests. The administration developed www.fedbizopps.gov, a site that offers venders a single point of entry to contracting opportunities.
  • Financial Management: Agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service launched ambitious financial management projects. The Clinton administration created the Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board, which issued a set of basic governmentwide accounting standards in 1996.
  • Regulatory Reform: President Clinton's 1993 Executive Order No. 12866 required agencies to perform cost-benefit analyses on alternatives to new regulations.
  • Reinventing Government: Vice President Gore's National Partnership for Reinventing Government helped create a more customer-focused government by creating a customer service survey and employee satisfaction survey. NPR also helped eliminate 250 obsolete federal programs such as the Tea Tasting Board.
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