Transforming Public Service

The pressure is on government organizations to transform themselves into effective institutions- a process which often requires new administrative procedures and high-caliber executives. Five recent books from the public administration/public management community provide advice for federal agencies struggling to change.

In order to reform the federal bureaucracy, we must know why it was created in the first place, says Patricia Ingraham, professor of public administration at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Ingraham ably describes the origin and evolution of our hodgepodge civil service system in her book The Foundation of Merit: Public Service in America. While the 1883 Pendleton Act has been modified endlessly over the years, its philosophy-a neutral civil service based on merit principles-still governs, she argues.

The dysfunctional legacy of the civil service system is discussed in books by Carolyn Ban, associate professor of public administration at the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at the State University of New York at Albany, and David Carnevale, director of public administration programs at the University of Oklahoma. Ban, in How Do Public Managers Manage?, presents findings from interviews with more than 200 civil servants about the impact of bureaucratic constraints on management and offers two major insights. First is the time managers spend (or more accurately, waste) either "coping" with or "fighting" the inflexible personnel system, including the bizarre system of staff ceilings, hiring freezes and reductions in force. Second, she contends that two types of managers populate the civil service-the worker-manager and the pseudo-supervisor.

Ban describes the worker-manager as a first-line supervisor who manages a staff and also performs hands-on technical work. She describes the pseudo-supervisor as a technical person who may have been promoted to a supervisory position in order to receive a pay raise. The pseudo-supervisor works primarily as a technical specialist, while the real authority remains with the person who is formally the second-level supervisor. Ban finds that pseudo-supervisors spend little time managing and tend to neglect or hand off difficult employee problems. While recommending "loosening con- straints" on our public managers, Ban says one must proceed cautiously in reforming both the system and organizational cultures simultaneously.

Carnevale, in Trustworthy Government, concludes that our bureaucratic model of organizations, exemplified by many federal agencies, is based on low trust of its employees. In bureaucracies, Carnevale says, "hierarchy is the central devising principle, work roles are narrowly defined, a premium is placed on impersonality in relationships, control is maximized, efficiency is prized, secrecy is a virtue, and means rather than ends receive the lion's share of attention." Not a pretty picture.

To improve government, Carnevale proposes a democratic theory of the workplace. He envisions democratic work structures in which power is dispersed, authority is diffused, dialogue is open, teamwork is valued and critical thinking is invited.

Carnevale concludes that all aspects of human resource management-organizational arrangements, primary roles, job design methods, compensation strategies, decision styles, attitudes toward learning, labor relations-must be strategically aligned to build trust. Carnevale provides a glimpse of a new civil service system based on such trust.

While Ingraham, Ban and Carnevale address the processes of government, Norma M. Riccucci, associate professor of public administration and policy at the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at the State University of New York at Albany, and Mark H. Moore, Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Professor at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, focus on the executives' roles.

Riccucci, in Unsung Heroes: Federal Execucrats Making a Difference, presents case studies of six federal career senior executives who have "made a difference"-William Black of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, Eileen Claussen of the Environmental Protection Agency, Ambassador Edward Perkins of the State Department, Stephen Marica of the Small Business Administration, Vince Hutchins of the Department of Health and Human Services, and Helene Gayle of the Centers for Disease Control. In describing the executives' behind the scenes impact on major national issues, Riccucci identifies crucial ingredients for effective bureaucratic performance. These include political, management and leadership skills mixed with experience, technical expertise and personality.

While Riccucci doesn't present a plan on how to grow more Maricas, Claussens or Perkinses, her point is that outstanding individuals can make a difference in spite of bureaucratic systems.

Mark Moore, in Creating Public Value: Strategic Management in Government, also profiles six executives in setting forth his vision of the job of public manager. The aim of managerial work in the public sector, Moore says, is to create public value, just as the aim of managerial work in the private sector is to create private value. The job of the manager is thus to define the mission and develop organizational strategies to accomplish that mission, build political support and legitimacy for the mission, and improve delivery of public services.

Moore presents case studies of successful and unsuccessful managers. The success stories include William Ruckelshaus during his first tenure as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Jerome Miller as head of the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services, Harry Spence at the Boston Housing Authority and Lee Brown as chief of the Houston Police Department. The unsuccessful managers include Miles Mahoney as head of the Massachusetts Department of Community Affairs and David Sencer during the swine flu controversy at the Centers for Disease Control.

Moore concludes that public managers should be "explorers" who are commissioned by society to search for public value. They are expected to use their initiative and imagination, while being responsive to political guidance and feedback. This role is a contrast to the traditional view of the neutral civil servant, who is obligated to take orders from political superiors.

The need for civil service reform seems clear. The Clinton Administration has prepared a trimmed-down civil service reform bill to expand demonstration authorities. The legislation is a start, but more dramatic reforms will be necessary to create a revitalized and energized public service for the 21st century. The works of Ban, Carnevale, Ingraham, Moore and Riccucci provide an excellent starting point in designing a new civil service system that will produce trust, public value, and high-performing organizations and individuals.

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