U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul A. Volcker, and Paul C. Light, a professor at the Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service at New York University, released on June 21, 2011, the recommendations of a comprehensive new blueprint for top-to-bottom reforms of the federal bureaucracy.
Professor Light’s report, “Creating High Performance Government: A Once-In-A-Generation Opportunity,” provides an overview of the accountability, efficiency, and productivity challenges facing Congress and the White House as they consider a broad overhaul of the federal bureaucracy. The report recommends reforms to improve performance as part of a package of comprehensive action, and includes estimates of significant potential cost savings.
Public confidence in the federal government’s ability to respond effectively to national and international, economic and political problems continues to dwindle. Some of these complaints are a clear reaction to political ideology, deepening polarization, and recent budget battles, but this perception reflects a core of reality, the study concludes.
Among the specific recommendations:
- Reduce the number of management layers between the top and bottom levels of the federal hierarchy;
- Harvest significant cost savings through elimination of duplication and program overlap, and take action to address a years-long backlog of unpaid taxes, improper payments and surplus federal property
- Increase workforce productivity by focusing on the quality and quantity of front line employees who deliver goods and services directly to citizens.
“We are spending considerable time discussing long-term plans to bring government spending and revenues into balance, yet the third leg of the stool must be a serious discussion about cutting costs through improvements in the way our government works,” said Sen. Warner, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee’s bipartisan Task Force on Government Performance. “This work is never easy and rarely generates news headlines. But removing unnecessary management layers and eliminating program overlap and agency duplication will improve service delivery for citizens and empower the federal workforce to focus on higher-quality outcomes.”
Volcker, who has been involved in public service reform for 25 years, served as chairman of the first and second National Commissions on the Public Service. He is the Chairman of the Campaign for High Performance Government, created in 2010 with his support.
“If major financial, health and education overhauls are indeed sorely needed to improve the quality of life of Americans, so too is a federal service reform that will equip the federal government with the tools that are needed to successfully implement reforms and carry out existing missions,” Chairman Volcker said. “Americans deserve no less.”
The report was funded with support from the Truman Foundation and the Robertson Foundation for Government.
“A government that is more focused, more effective, and more accountable will be a better government, is in everyone’s best interest, and will elicit the public’s enthusiastic trust and respect,” Foundation Chairman Bill Robertson said. “If we are to attract the best and the brightest into federal service we need to show them that the government is a worthy career choice. Implementing the comprehensive reform agenda outlined in this report will help do just that.”
The report was written by Professor Light, the founding director of the Global Center on Public Service at NYU Wagner.
“The problem with the federal government reform is not too many ideas, but rather the lack of comprehensive package. The current debt debate provides a once in a generation opportunity to achieve the kind of sweeping overhaul that saves significant amounts of money and improves overall performance,” Prof. Light said. “Every president since Franklin Roosevelt has entered office promising government reform, but none has quite succeeded. Instead, today’s federal bureaucracy remains anchored in organizational strategies and structures invented in the 1930s and rarely updated since.”
The full report, including recommendations and a summary of past recommendations by good government groups, is available here: http://wagner.nyu.edu/governmentreform/index.pdf.