Thoughts About Government Transformation
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on June 18 entitled “Reinventing Government”. Several leaders with great experience in Federal government leadership and management issues presented testimony and engaged in an extensive discussion with the Committee on both the general topic, and on the proposal for a Commission on Government Transformation from the Government Transformation Initiative.
I shared perspectives as follows.
Current Challenges Can Create Long-Term Opportunities
First, it is important to recognize that numerous fiscal, technological, and social forces are bringing unprecedented complexity to government, leading to a set of pressures unlike any combination of factors we’ve seen in the past. Our Center (www.businessofgovernment.org) will soon issue a call for research into practical ideas for transforming government to better achieve mission and program goals in this environment. These ideas fall into six drivers for change.
- Developing Cost Savings Strategies That Improve Efficiency and Effectiveness, discussed further below.
- Fostering Innovation and Transformation, such as incorporating a new technology into an agency’s daily operations to improve services.
- Aligning Mission Support with Mission Delivery, so that chief financial and information officers can better integrate with programs
- Making the Best Use of Performance and Results Management, by using performance information to drive decisions in addition to tracking progress
- Managing Risk in a Rapidly Changing World, so that government can understand and communicate risks in much the same way that companies do, and
- Developing New Models of Public Leadership Within and Across Agencies, whereby leaders work together, and gain buy-in, to achieve change across organizational lines.
Individually, research into each of these six areas will provide important knowledge about what tools and approaches work best. Collectively, they can point to changes across a broad array of functions that can help government keep pace.
Indeed, government transformation does not usually happen by getting one thing right. Rather, it happens because committed teams of managers and employees, often working with the non-profit and commercial worlds that support government, put together an effective, responsive, and multi-faceted change strategy.
Strategies for Improving Efficiency and Effectiveness
As noted above, transformation strategies can lead to real efficiencies for government in a number of areas.
The first area emerges from the Center’s 2010 report, Strategies to Cut Costs and Improve Performance, which identified leading commercial practices that could be applied in the federal government.
The second area comes from a new Center report, Fast Government: Accelerating Service Quality While Reducing Cost and Time. Fast Government addresses different strategies and tools that can help achieve change quickly and cost-effectively, by focusing on how focusing on the element of time can bring value to the public sector.
“Fast government” covers a variety of approaches to speed up government while also improving services, which are detailed in my written testimony and include:
- Accelerating the delivery of government programs by requiring fewer process steps, such as moving from 10 sign-offs to three.
- Finding new ways to perform a given set of tasks more quickly, such moving from an assembly-line approach to a parallel process.
- Creating interactive services so that citizens can solve their own problems, such as creating a self-service website.
- Using predictive analytics to reduce or eliminate entire processes, such as reducing improper payments in the first place rather than spending time to recoup payments.
At the heart of any effort to make government work faster will be a focus on three variables: people, process, and technology: Perhaps the most important of these is the human factor, because people make government processes run. One of the key elements in implementing fast government is ensuring that employees have the skills and capabilities to succeed.
Government transformation is always a challenge given existing structures. Government leaders looking to solve problems in this environment must leverage multiple tools of change, in ways that can best be integrated to produce positive and lasting transformation that works for citizens, business, and employees. A Commission devoted to government transformation that is dedicated to this proposition may be a highly effective means of generating such results.