The Individuals Behind Government's Success Stories

The recent history of government reforms provides important lessons for leaders.

The past 30 years have witnessed major change across the management landscape of the federal government. That history provides important lessons both for today’s leaders and for those of future administrations. Yet little has been written about the role leaders and teams have played in the evolution of management reforms—often overcoming high odds to achieve success, sometimes experiencing failure, each time learning and moving forward. And rarely is attention paid to understanding what remains relevant from past experience to inform future strategies.

We intend to address that gap.  

With the coming presidential election and the certainty of senior leadership change in agencies, whether from a new administration or new leaders in a second term, we believe that understanding the evolution of government reform can provide an important lens for understanding key choices facing incoming teams. In this spirit, we are starting a series called “Business of Government Stories,” where we will narrate the stories of many of the most influential events that have shaped government over the past generation.  

Some of the key events in this history include:

  • Significant laws that have imposed greater discipline on agency operations and decisionmaking, such as the 1990 Chief Financial Officers’ Act and the 2018 Evidence-Based Policymaking Act;
  • A number of governmentwide reform initiatives, like the 1993 National Performance Review and several presidents’ management agendas;
  • Administrative initiatives aimed at improving programs and performance, including Total Quality Management and Agile and Customer Experience;
  • Significant technology advances that have changed the course of business, from the introduction of email in agencies to artificial intelligence.

Since 1998, the IBM Center for The Business of Government has produced hundreds of reports and interviews that focus on specific challenges and opportunities for government, all available on our website. Our 2018 book Government for the Future reviewed this content and insights from outside experts to assess broad changes over the past two decades and develop forecasts for government two decades hence. Still, missing from this portfolio is a cohesive assessment of the stories behind this progress, and the lessons of those stories for leaders today.

Our series will focus on the people behind this management evolution, and most importantly the lessons learned that can inform choices now and in the future. A podcast will accompany each post, with reflections on the stories behind these stories.

The series will culminate in a final report that integrates major findings and key recommendations, to serve as a resource for new leaders. 

We will focus on events that have been core elements of reform over the past three decades, including:

  • Major reform initiatives, like the National Partnership for Reinventing Government 
  • Agency reorganization efforts, including the creation of the Department of Homeland Security 
  • Performance and program management efforts, such the creation of the Performance Assessment Rating Tool or Cross Agency Priority Goals 
  • Key mission support initiatives that address workforce, finance, acquisition, regulation, shared services, and customer experience.

We are pleased to partner with Government Executive in releasing this series, which will run through 2020. And we are excited that this history and reflection will include the voices of some of the individuals who made change happen. In that spirit, we invite dialogue with others who want to share memories of these and other events to help identify lessons from the past that will inform our future.