The ”A” word is in

resident George W. Bush wants the federal government to stop being a "nanny" who tells people exactly how to do things and focus its attention instead on results. The "A" word-"accountability"-is a favorite in the new President's vocabulary and key to his philosophy of giving others the freedom and flexibility to find the best solutions to vexing problems.
The "A" word-"accountability"-is a favorite in President Bush's vocabulary.P

In his uncharacteristically eloquent inaugural address, Bush mentioned responsibility five times as he urged Americans to "seek a common good beyond your comfort" and to embrace ideals that "lift us above our interests." He exhorted people to get involved as "responsible citizens, building communities of service and a nation of character."

Bush's vision of unleashing well-intentioned citizens and corporations to further the greater good is attractive. And his use of the bully pulpit to encourage such behavior has been widely praised. After all, no organized constituencies advocate failure or poor results.

As President, Bush's challenge is to help make that vision a reality. "Government has great responsibilities for public safety and public health, for civil rights and common schools," he acknowledged in his speech. And he has made it clear that he expects those who work in his administration to help fulfill those obligations.

In describing his role, Bush earlier this year declared "a good executive is one that understands how to recruit people and how to delegate, how to align authority and responsibility, how to hold people accountable for results and how to build a team of people."

Bush's team clearly gets the message. Office of Management and Budget Director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. stressed during his confirmation hearing that he intends to "capitalize the M in OMB" and to shift his agency's emphasis to "an insistence on output" and away from "a mentality in which progress is measured in dol- lars of input." And Secretary of Education Rod Paige, in promoting the administration's education initiative, declared: "When we set high standards for our schools and our children, and when we give our schools and our children the support they need and hold them accountable for results, public education can get the job done."

As a former governor, Bush also will enthusiastically delegate to state governments greater authority to administer federal programs, notes American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research scholar Robert W. Hahn. "States will be offered freedom from regulation, but will be held accountable for results," he explains.

There is, of course, nothing novel about focusing on results. In 1993, President Clinton launched his government reinvention initiative with the admonition that federal managers should put "a premium on speed and function and service, not rules and regulations." And the Government Performance and Results Act, enacted the same year, requires federal agencies-and their congressional overseers-to establish results-oriented criteria to evaluate program performance.

Sharing responsibility-whether with other levels of government, private contractors or "faith-based" organizations-is not new either. Devolution of power to states and localities was a rallying cry of the Reagan administration and the first Bush administration aggressively promoted volunteerism through a "thousand points of light" initiative.

The critical test for the younger Bush will be to honor his pledge to hold people accountable when things do not go well. As more responsibility devolves to other levels of government and to the private sector, government managers will have less direct control over program outcomes. Bush also will need to establish himself in the public's eye as a commander-in-chief who is calling the shots, rather than simply deferring to the judgments of experienced senior aides, such as Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield.

As governor of Texas, Bush boasted of improvements in student achievement, but critics question the validity of the testing criteria. Doubt also surrounds his policy of cooperating with industry to reduce air pollution. Four of the state's major metropolitan areas-Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston-Galveston, Beaumont-Port Arthur and El Paso-do not meet federal air quality standards.

And, according to The New York Times, little evidence exists to suggest that Bush was a taskmaster who cracked down on subordinates who failed to make proper use of delegated powers. In six years, Bush demanded the resignation of only one of his appointees, The Times reported.

In the White House, the stakes for Bush-and the nation-are higher. His goals of assuring the solvency of Social Security and Medicare and "sparing our children from struggles we have the power to prevent" matter to a lot of people. If acceptable results are not achieved, it is Bush who will be held accountable.

Dick Kirschten is a contributing editor for National Journal. Contact him at

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