During the election campaign, President-elect Donald Trump boldly promised to “drain the swamp” in Washington. To that end, the Trump administration can regain the trust of our people by creating a government worthy of its citizens.
With Trump’s transition team crafting policies for the new administration, now is the time to build a distinctive and robust government performance reform plan that stops measuring success by ever-increasing budgets and instead focuses on value.
The election revealed an electorate that is angry and cynical. And why not? Today we have a federal bureaucracy that is massive, ineffective, duplicative, invasive, protected and unaccountable. It regularly fails in spectacular fashion, with waste, fraud and abuse totals larger than the market capitalization of many U.S. corporations. The Postal Service cannot even deliver the mail without racking up a $15 billion debt. No private sector shareholder would put up with this, and as collective shareholders in America, neither should we.
A new plan must move beyond the typical Washington solution of arbitrary spending cuts and on-paper reorganizations. Simply look at the impact of sequestration on the Defense Department for evidence of the lasting damage this causes. For decades, presidents have asked the Office of Management and Budget to transform government performance, but these efforts haven’t worked. In 2009, President Obama doubled down on the “make OMB do it” approach when he directed the agency’s deputy director to handle performance improvement efforts. The arrangement layered more work on an already busy position, and created conflicts of authority and access. It scarcely moved the ball.
A real reform agenda must be fundamental, deep and sustainable; it must be a comprehensive effort that looks beyond the old methods to assess, analyze and determine the value of government programs and to adjust efficiency and accountability accordingly.
In this golden age of high-performance technology, genuine government reform should embed a virtuous feedback loop of performance improvement in every operation of our federal government. It should incorporate citizen feedback into results, embracing transparency in all reports and plans. Every agency must be required to conduct thorough operational analyses that are refined in practice to create measurable benchmarks and goals for service improvement and mission readiness. Dealing with the Social Security Administration or the Department of Veterans Affairs should be no more difficult that getting car insurance online, or ordering through Amazon. And yes, this is possible if only we have the will to make it so.
Achieving this goal will not require spending more or creating another bureaucracy. Rather, the president can appoint a chief performance officer and give him or her his ear and his support. The new officer would drive a governmentwide focus on efficiency by leading a Federal Policy Council, made up of the Cabinet departments’ deputy secretaries. This arrangement would coordinate power and action, clearly assigning responsibility for improved results.
For too long, federal employees have been stovepiped and disengaged by rules that don’t make sense and arbitrary management that embraces mission creep as a survival tool. Bureaucrats are not bad people. But they are trapped in an archaic system that all but guarantees they will underperform. We can unlock the “captive value” that exits in government today. We can unleash a new wave of creativity and problem-solving by the people most familiar with our systemic challenges. Combined with the application of performance engineering governmentwide, we can streamline operations, reduce costs and improve outcomes.
President-elect Trump has a bold reform agenda. But every policy and plan is ultimately dependent on the bureaucracy to make it operational. Government reform must therefore be the prerequisite of all other efforts. What’s more, it is fully consistent with the president-elect’s message. Best-in-class government—responsive, transparent, accountable, efficient and cost-effective—will result in a government that serves the people.
David Paschane is the CEO of Aplin Partners, a performance engineering firm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Twitter user Oran Viriyincy