NPR director touts reinvention's results

This is the second in an occasional series of GovExec.com exit interviews with key officials in the Clinton administration. In 1993, the Clinton administration launched the National Performance Review (NPR), an interagency task force of federal employees focused on ways to make the government work better and cost less. Vice President Al Gore led the government reinvention effort and directed agencies to streamline the federal workforce, write regulations in plain language, and make government services more accessible to the public via the Internet. Former AT&T Vice President Morley Winograd replaced Elaine Kamarck as director of NPR in 1997, and the following year, the organization reinvented itself by changing its name to the National Partnership for Reinventing Government. NPR estimates that over the past eight years, the organization has helped save the government about $137 billion through use of its customer-focused and performance-based agenda. GovExec.com talked to Winograd about NPR's successes, lessons learned and the reinvention movement's biggest piece of unfinished business. On his biggest accomplishments: My proudest accomplishment is the way NPR changed the culture of government to be more performance-focused, not only through GPRA [the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act], but through delivering services to the customer and empowering employees. I am also proud of the steps we have taken to move the government into the Internet world. FirstGov.gov puts everything on-line that there is; it was a great accomplishment. Understanding how to achieve results received less attention, but was no less important. Another NPR accomplishment was figuring out how to network and create partnerships by working across agencies in the federal government and reaching across state and local governments. And we made some progress with after school programs for kids [with AfterSchool.gov] and jobs and training, but we are really proud of the general framework of balanced measures and customer service. On his biggest disappointments: I am disappointed by the fact that the Vice President did not get enough credit for all the accomplishments of NPR. Americans are still skeptical of the accomplishments we have made. On what happens to NPR on Inauguration Day: All the NPR people will return to their agencies and the offices will be returned to the General Services Administration, which will decide what to do with the space. On what's left to accomplish in reinvention: Civil service workforce reform was the reinvention movement's biggest piece of unfinished business. We had several aborted attempts at reforming civil service throughout the years, although we made some progress around the edges, such as SES [Senior Executive Service] performance measures. The fundamental challenge remains employee performance versus seniority in pay determination. On advice he would offer to potential successors: One of the greatest lessons we learned was from the private sector, which was that the best ideas come from listening to the front-line worker. The way to keep reinvention going is for government to listen to its front-line employees and listen to its customers. On how agencies can maintain the reinvention momentum: I think agencies need to focus on implementing a balanced-measures approach, and this should be the way they think about running their organizations. For example, what is our plan for GPRA, how are we going to measure results and how are we going to keep our customers satisfied and our employees empowered? On the future of NPR: Even if Gore had won [the presidential election], I don't think there would have been an organization like the current NPR. NPR was a task force of career government employees dedicated to working and learning about reinvention, and that was a great way to get the momentum started. Now the challenge is implementing the principles of reinvention, and that will require more attention and dedication from the agencies. The reinvention movement will need a different structure and approach. On his future plans: I am going home--to Los Angeles-Arcadia, Calif., to be exact--and into the world of consulting. I think some of the consulting work I'll be doing will involve this [reinvention] issue.
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