You Won Now What? : How Americans Can Make Democracy Work from City Hall to the White House

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  • Copyright: 1999-01-06
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A COMMONSENSE ROAD MAP FOR MAKING OUR GOVERNMENT WORKAs public officials fail to deliver their campaign promises -- and voter cynicism skyrockets -- a simple explanation has become widely accepted: Government is broken. If only we could fix this system, voters hope, our democracy would work the way it was designed. But is government broken, or are the people we hire each Election Day not up to the job?You Won -- Now What?turns the tables on the government-reform debate. The answer is not to reinvent government but to reinvent government officials.Taegan D. Goddard and Christopher Riback use real-life stories to analyze the failures and successes of politicians from every level of government. Drawing on these examples, the authors identify the eight traits of effective public officials. These commonsense solutions prove that government is personal: good people can make a difficult system work.You Won -- Now What?explains to politicians and voters alike how government works -- and how it can work better.

Table of Contents

A Government of Novices
Reinventing Government Again (and Again)
Reinventing Government Officials
It's Not a Business
Rethinking Government
The Vision Thing
Changing of the Guard
Ending Bureaucracy as We Know It
Juggling Many Balls At Once
Managing the Message
Remember Who Sent You Conclusion Selected
Table of Contents provided by Publisher. All Rights Reserved.


Reinventing Government Again (and Again)

When I walked the state 25 years ago, an old cracker told me the walk would get me elected senator -- but he wanted me to always remember that "Government don't work." I've puzzled this over the years. Now I know he was right. Government don't work. Government can't work. People work. Government is the framework through which people work.

-- Lawton Chiles, U.S. senator and later governor of Florida

Hail to the Chief

The warm September day welcomed several dozen congressmen and nearly every cabinet secretary to the manicured White House Rose Garden. "Hail to the Chief" sounded in the background as President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore stepped briskly onto the White House lawn and stood behind a dark blue podium embossed with the presidential seal. The setting was regal -- except for two large yellow forklifts piled high with reams of government paperwork.

"Mr. President, if you want to know why government doesn't work, look behind you. The answer is at least partly on those forklifts," Gore said in introductory remarks. "Those forklifts hold copies of budget rules, procurement rules, and the personnel code. The personnel code alone weighs in at over 1,000 pounds. That code and those regulations stacked up there no longer help government work, they hurt it; they hurt it badly. And we recommend getting rid of it."

After a shaky nine months in office, a time of failed presidential nominations and unsatisfying policy victories like "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the new administration declared the federal government broken. Now they wanted to fix it, and the unveiling of the National Performance Review was their attempt. The project's nickname was "Reinventing Government," or "ReGo" for short. To emphasize its importance, Clinton tapped the vice president to lead the effort in drafting 168 pages of recommendations to make government "work better and cost less."

"For too long government has been an obstacle to change," Gore said. "But if government is powerful enough to block change, then it is powerful enough to bring change."

The Clinton agenda was on the line. Although the president had promised to "focus on the economy like a laser beam," his budget passed the Democratic-controlled Congress by only one vote and an economic stimulus package failed. As a candidate, Clinton also pledged to change the welfare system, revamp health insurance, and reduce crime by putting more police on the streets. None of these had yet occurred. In his inaugural address, the word change appeared eleven times. Yet little had changed except the faces at cabinet meetings. The "Putting People First" program he ran on was stuck in first gear.

"To accomplish any of these goals, we have to revolutionize the government itself so that the American people trust the decisions that are made and trust us to do the work that government has to do," Clinton remarked. "The entire agenda of change depends upon our ability to change the way we do our own business with the people's money. That is the only way we can restore the faith of our citizens."

Government would be remade: agencies reorganized, bureaucrats cut, and red tape slashed. More important to Clinton, the review promised to "rebuild the confidence of the American people in this great public enterprise."

It was a direct attack on cynicism. America's government, at long last, would do the people's work in an efficient and businesslike manner.

Obstructed by the glow of that sunny September afternoon but discernible to anyone willing to look closely was evidence that Clinton's plan to fix government was doomed. The president's team ignored the chief reason government doesn't work well: Many new officials taking over their government do not understand how to make it work. Indeed, it was much less painful for Gore to argue that these new officials weren't the problem.

"We have excellent, hardworking, imaginative workers trapped in bad systems," Gore told the president at the unveiling ceremony. "We need to help get them free of those systems."

One could almost hear the collective "whew!" from the dozens of administration officials in the audience relieved to know that "I'm OK; you're OK." To continuous applause, Gore threw jabs at "the government," blaming it, and not themselves, for the cynicism swelling across the nation.

"It's old-fashioned, outdated government," Gore said of the government he led. "It's government using a quill pen in the age of WordPerfect."

However, the vice president's comment itself was outdated, not an effective attack on government. For it was already the age of Microsoft Word, which had recently topped WordPerfect as the bestselling word processing software package.

Gore's remark symbolizes the problem facing any new administration, whether at the federal, state, or local level. Citizens' views change frequently, often as quickly as new software packages are introduced. At election time, and sometimes before, they demand that their public officials "upgrade" their government with new features or eliminate the "bugs" that cause the system to crash.

How Americans vote to "manage" government reflects their changing and often inconsistent views on precisely what their government should or should not do. Governing successfully starts with accomplishing what citizens ask for in elections. When new public officials fail, they typically do what Clinton and Gore did -- blame "the government" and promise to reinvent it. Once again, it's the system's fault, not the fault of people who run the system. This stokes cynicism, because the people keep changing, but the results remain the same. No one is accountable.

Another way the National Performance Review fueled cynicism was the way it portrayed citizens.

"We can treat taxpayers like customers," Gore said at its unveiling.

Citizens, however, are not customers of government. They are its owners. And as government's shareholders, they had received no dividends.

The difference is great. Customers look first at what they can reap from government. If citizens think of themselves as consumers, they will shop for candidates who give them the most services now for what they spend. In contrast, owners tend to take a longer-term view. They look to make government work better, hiring public officials who can achieve the common goals expressed during the elections. Citizens were frustrated not with the government but with the management they put in place to run it. The Gore report tried to shift the focus. Yet it was an unsustainable strategy.

The National Performance Review also missed its mark by overstating claims of making government more efficient. The General Accounting Office didn't believe the effort would save the $118 billion Gore claimed. In fact, the administration's budget director, Leon Panetta, reportedly found the announced savings so questionable that he refused to sign off on them.

For all his talk of streamlining government, the vice president's own office looked like a textbook example of government excess. Gore had five taxpayer-financed offices: one in the West Wing of the White House; one nearby in the Old Executive Office Building; one in the Capitol; one in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, and even one in his home state of Tennessee, although he served a national constituency. In contrast, the president had only one.

Peter Drucker ridiculed the Gore effort in anAtlantic Monthlyarticle: "In any institution other than the federal government, the changes being trumpeted as reinventions would not even be announced, except perhaps on the bulletin board in the hallway. They are the kinds of things a hospital expects floor nurses to do on their own; that a bank expects branch managers to do on their own; that even a poorly run manufacturer expects supervisors to do on their own -- without getting much praise, let alone extra rewards."

For example, as proof of "radically changing government," with great fanfare the vice president released a report trumpeting that government workers could now buy a stapler for $4 (instead of the $54 it cost in the past) or send a three-pound FedEx delivery for $3.62 (instead Of $27). These changes, while tremendously embarrassing to administration officials if not implemented, could hardly be considered radical. Citizens, the owners of government, expect no less.

Rightly, Americans never gave the administration much credit for the antibureaucratic crusade launched on the White House lawn. In the administration's first two years, opinion polls indicated that thenumber of citizens who felt the government was too intrusive had risen from less than half in 1992 to more than three quarters in 1994. When asked if the Clinton administration had made progress in making government more efficient, 78 percent of respondents said "just a little or none." And of course, in the 1994 midterm elections, Democrats lost not only the Senate but also control of the House of Representatives for the first time in forty years.

Sensing that the political winds had shifted, Gore changed tack.

After just fourteen months, it was time to reinvent the reinvented government. Specifically, Gore refocused his effort to match the Republican rhetoric about turning over control of many government programs to the states. Rather than make the tough administrative changes in Washington, D.C., Gore passed the buck to the nation's governors and mayors.

"We will stop making so many decisions in Washington that would be better made by state government, local government, or individual citizens," Gore said at a news conference two months after the midterm elections. "And we will replace Washington interference with local opportunity."

The reinvented National Performance Review, or ReGo II, as Gore staffers called it, would shift the responsibilities for many programs to the states by giving block grants. Other functions, such as air traffic control, would be privatized entirely. After nearly two years of claiming that agency management needed improvement, Gore now focused on abolishing some programs forever. How could times have changed so quickly?

Surprisingly, Gore never looked in the mirror. Perhaps government was not working because the people responsible for fulfilling the voters' wishes -- the elected and appointed officials brought into office with the new administration -- were not delivering on them. Perhaps the problem was not with "the government," but with the government officials.

In fact, the inaction of the president's own appointees was in large part to blame. A 1996 GAO report reviewing Gore's progress suggested that many innovations coming from "reinvention labs" in the agencies were resisted by top administration officials. If there was a more efficient way to do something in government, Gore wanted agencies to seek waivers from the standard government procedures. But waivers from rules and procedures were frequently denied by Clinton administration officials at the Office of Management and Budget, Office of Personnel Management, and the General Services Administration.

Some top officials simply disagreed with the president's diagnosis that government was broken.

"I don't buy the notion that government is not working and that government is the problem," former deputy treasury secretary Roger C. Altman said. "'Reinventing government' is just a political phrase of the day. You can say 'make it better,' but that just doesn't resonate."

One Gore report declared that the "history of reinventing government" started on March 3, 1993, when Clinton issued an executive order initiating the National Performance Review. But the demand for a leaner, more efficient government is nothing new and began long before Clinton's administration.

Every new public official must understand this lesson from history: Reinventing government is an old story. It's been told hundreds of times in the last century at all levels of government. And as the saying goes: Those who ignore the errors of history are doomed to repeat them.

Let the Games Begin

The first real attempt at reinventing American government came not in 1993 but 1881. Charles J. Guiteau, who had been turned down for a government job after working on the presidential campaign, was not terribly happy with how the hiring process ran. A "spoils system" ruled, where people received and kept jobs based almost solely on whom they knew. Fifty-three thousand employees were regularly replaced after presidential elections. And if to the victor go the spoils, Guiteau lost. He got no job.

Instead, he took the opportunity to single-handedly reinvent American government: He shot dead President James A. Garfield. A bit crude, but it worked. "The crime," an editorial at the time stated, "acted on public opinion like a spark on a powder-magazine." Congress reconvened after the state funeral and in 1883 President Chester Arthur signed the law establishing the federal civil service system, which sought to replace favoritism with objective standards for government hiring.

But while the civil service system created a professional, permanent class of government servants, it did nothing to prevent the abuses still rampant in the political appointment process. After the 1888 presidential election, Benjamin Harrison was shocked to find that he could not even choose his own cabinet, because Republican party leaders had given away the best positions to the highest bidders.

"When I came into power, I found that the party managers had taken it all to themselves," Harrison said. "I could not name my own Cabinet. They had sold out every place to pay the election expenses." The Harrison administration's future was for the political machine to decide.

Since that time, government's scope has grown and the civil service has expanded. As the twentieth century began, reformers moved to control government's inner workings, ending the era of Boss Tweed and replacing it with the era of bureaucracy. They hoped the shift from politics to professionalism in government would put an end to corruption and favoritism. But while the new bureaucratic system cleaned up many abuses, it also created a whole new set of management problems.

The Era of Management

The next phase of reinventions, in the early 1900s, focused on improving public management. But the broad goals of each were really not much different than Al Gore's reinventing government effort. Administration after administration, struggling to make government do what the voters wanted, promised to fix the government without looking to improve the people who ran it.

President Theodore Roosevelt tapped Assistant Treasury Secretary Charles Keep to head the Keep Commission (1905-9), the first national commission to seek gains by improving management. It meticulously reviewed the entire federal bureaucracy. And though the report put political appointees in charge of agencies, it annoyed many members of Congress, who considered their role to actively oversee most executive branch functions. The plan went nowhere.

Under President William Howard Taft, the President's Commission on Economy and Efficiency (1910-13) proposed creating an overall budget for the executive branch and recommended that the president do more to set a national agenda. Once again, however, Congress resented this infringement on its turf. With congressional leaders resisting, it wasn't until 1919 that legislation passed allowing the president to submit individual agency budgets.

President Warren Harding had his own reinvention scheme. The idea that the president could actively manage the federal government first came from Harding's Joint Committee on Reorganization (1921-24), in response to an increased number of public service programs. The plan grew during Franklin D. Roosevelt's second term, when the Brownlow Committee (1936-37) argued that the executive branch had "grown up without plan or design like the barns, shacks, silos, tool sheds and garages of an old farm." Congress had produced this haphazard structure by creating a new agency every time it introduced a new program.

To correct the problem, the Brownlow Committee created the first organizational chart for the executive branch, designing clear lines of authority to the president as top manager. In the committee's view, a strong democracy needed "a responsible and effective chief executive as the center of energy, direction, and administrative management." To help put the chief executive at such a center of activity, the report also recommended creating an Executive Office of the President, where top policy and management decisions for the government would be made.

When the committee finished its work in 1937, Roosevelt summed up the state of federal government at the time: "Our struggle now is against confusion, against ineffectiveness, against waste, against inefficiency. This battle, too, must be won, unless it is to be said that in our generation national self-government broke down and was frittered away by bad management."

If FDR's words still sound relevant more than sixty years later, one wonders what other American presidents and their political appointees have been doing since. A clue: making a lot more changes to government's organizational chart.

Déjà Vu All Over Again

If the bureaucratic system worked at all in the early 1900s, it was because government handled just a limited set of tasks. Yet as FDR's New Deal increased demands, new problems developed. As government grew larger, fresh management challenges loomed. Still, public looking for answer officials kept in the same old places. And more commissions were formed to reinvent government yet again.

After World War II, former president Herbert Hoover led the first extensive study of every administrative aspect of the federal govern merit. The Hoover Commission (1947-49) recommended that political appointees be given legal authority to manage their departments. previously, most authority was reserved for lower-level officials. The change clarified who was in charge and was expected to solve many of government's problems.

Government, however, had not been fixed; four years later, President Dwight D. Eisenhower commissioned another Hoover Commission. Like most sequels, however, Hoover II (1953-55) hardly advanced the storyline and, indeed, repeated the plot played out in Hoover I. It attempted to pare down the functions of the federal government, targeting some programs for elimination.

During the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, a variety of commissions came up with the same not-so-radical recommendation: Improve government efficiency without focusing on the top officials. President John F. Kennedy's budget director led an effort to root out problems in government contracting. President Lyndon B. Johnson launched a reorganization task force that recommended creating five new departments to handle his new Great Society programs. As he dramatically increased the scope of government, Johnson installed planning and budgeting systems to seek greater productivity, declaring it "a very revolutionary system so that through the tools of modern management the full promise of a finer life can be brought toevery American at the lowest possible cost." Of course, government only got more expensive.

Richard M. Nixon decided that what really needed to be done to government was to run it like a business. Nixon tapped industrialist Roy Ash to head the Ash Council (1969-71), which, remarkably, concluded the same thing that FDR's Brownlow Committee had thirty-four years earlier: Government was woefully inefficient, and the executive branch needed a major restructuring. Ash recommended a massive assault on fragmented government, suggesting that smaller departments be subsumed by larger ones with broader mandates. But it was just another reordering of the bureaucracy, and as Watergate engulfed the White House, the Ash Council recommendations landed, for the most part, in the dustbin.

Next, Jimmy Carter promised massive change in the way government conducted its business. The President's Reorganization Project (1977-79) attempted a bottom-up reshuffling of the entire executive branch. With a staff of more than three hundred, it became the largest effort to date to revamp the government. Carter's "zero-based budgeting" plan was the key (does this sound familiar?) to greater efficiency. "It's simple and it works," Carter said. "It will make sure that the money that is allocated goes further."

But Carter's effort did little to give the president greater control over the government. After Nixon's resignation, Americans were increasingly wary of a strong president. So Congress placed "inspectors general" in executive branch agencies to keep watch on administration officials. In the next decade, more than twelve thousand auditors penetrated federal agencies to root out waste. Though beneficial from a watchdog standpoint, the move accomplished the exact opposite of Carter's goals -- it made government bigger.

In 1981, Ronald Reagan took his turn. In his inaugural address, the Gipper declared that "Government is not the solution, it's the problem." So it was no surprise that his Grace Commission (1982-84) would try to win one by targeting major government functions for elimination. Headed by industrialist J. Peter Grace, Reagan promised the commission would "work like tireless bloodhounds, leaving no stone unturned in their search to root out inefficiency and waste of taxpayer dollars."

The commission itself, though, was overstuffed. It comprised 161 corporate CEOs and more than 2,000 loaned executives who suggested the federal government be run like a large corporation -- with top-down control. But for all of their brave talk, the Reagan crowd soon discovered that government was not a corporation. Citicorp's John Heilshorn served as one of the Grace Commission executives.

"We were part of the problem -- the major part," Heilshorn recalled. "We were on an ego trip. Here we were, a bunch of business leaders coming to Washington to fix the problems with government. As soon as we took credit for developing a recommendation, that was the kiss of death. The culture of Washington buried us."

Finally, George Bush tried a plan of "rightsizing government." It was a modest effort once again modeled after corporate America. "I honestly believe that this is the only way to get the size and spending of government under control," Bush said. But as the economy slid into recession, deficits increased, and voters sent Bush into early retirement.

Then Bill Clinton stepped up to the plate. He promised to reinvent government by initiating the boldly named National Performance Review. It was the largest and most visible management review of the federal government in history.

"Make no mistake about this," Clinton said at its unveiling. "This is one report that will not gather dust in a warehouse."

Thirteen presidents, thirteen reinventions. Each one promised a better government but left citizens still wanting. And it wasn't much better at the state and local levels.

States of Despair

The Clinton administration's second attempt at reinventing government, ReGo II, promised to shift control of many programs down to the states. After years of having the big boys in Washington bungle things, state and local governments got the chance to run more programs on their own. Responsibilities for welfare and housing, for example, were pushed down to governors and mayors.

In many ways, the challenge for state officials is greater than for federal officials. Limitations on the president's power were primarily established by statute. But at the state level, limits on the governor's authority are much more complicated. Suspicious of executive power, the founders of the original thirteen states restrained governors with explicit constitutional provisions. For example, early state executives were granted few powers, and their terms were typically limited to one or two years and sometimes to a single term. Most states that later joined the union followed this trend.

The nineteenth-century reform movement diluted state chief executives' power even further. These reforms increased the number of independently elected executive branch officials, such as the state treasurer, attorney general, secretary of state, comptroller, auditor, and, in some cases, a state education chief.

For example, the treasurer may be a state's chief fiscal officer, but often he reports to the people and not the governor. In nineteen states, the lieutenant governor is elected separately from the governor. These checks on chief executives' power slow governors and their appointed officials from accomplishing their agendas, because they must rely on other independently elected officials for assistance. They also add exponentially to the number of possible reinventions that can take place. The governor could reinvent one aspect of government, while an independently elected state comptroller might reinvent another, each using different philosophies.

"It was different being in the legislature or city council," said Martha Whitehead, former Texas state treasurer, "In the city council there were shared goals, and we would celebrate the successes as we reached them. But as state treasurer, my agenda might be 180 degrees from the governor's. And the governor's might be 180 degrees from the lieutenant governor's. That frustrated me."

Further complicating matters, state legislatures were even more vigilant than Congress at limiting the executive branch's power. Legislatures often refused to allow the governor to run newly created programs, instead forming new boards and commissions to oversee them. In addition, legislatures usually reserved authority for appointing members, further keeping control from the governor. So states like Louisiana and Georgia grew to have three hundred agencies, yet the governor lacked influence over most of them. In North Carolina, the governor didn't even get the right to veto laws passed by the state legislature until 1997. While these checks on executive power ensured that nothing terrible would happen, they prevented much good as well.

Over the past 75 years, more than 170 attempts were launched to reorganize state governments and eliminate overlap, waste, and inefficiency. The majority of these attempts were introduced with great fanfare and then defeated, either dying in the state legislature or failing in implementation. The Council of State Governments found that for the twenty-one successful state government reorganizations completed between 1965 and 1979, the average "germination time" was a staggering forty-five years. Few public officials besides record-setting eight-term U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond can wait that long to implement an agenda.

But like the comedian's plea of "stop me before I strike again," this notion of reinventing state governments is bad humor. Most important, like their federal counterparts, these state-level reinventions suffered from the same problem -- they sought to fix government without focusing on the government officials responsible for making it work.

By the 1990s, state-level reinventions picked up steam, starting with the Texas Performance Review in 1991. The Texas management study helped launch dozens of copycats across America, including the Clinton effort. After a wave of new governors took office in 1995, the National Academy of Public Administration found that forty-one governors had announced plans to "reinvent government." The reinventions cut across party lines and took different approaches, but their objectives were the same: to make their state governments deliver what was promised. For example:

  • In California, Republican governor Pete Wilson began his second term with an assault on government, the same government he had already headed for four years: "When a family goes shopping...they look for the best quality at the lowest price. Common sense for California families should become common practice for state government. We should not spend tax dollars hiring state employees to do work the private sector can do as well or better for less money."
  • In Maryland, Democratic governor Parris N. Glendening declared: "We can make our government work smarter and leaner."
  • In Missouri, Democratic governor Mel Carnahan promised his first budget "cuts obsolete spending, and it focuses on ways to make government more efficient and less wasteful."
  • In North Dakota, Republican governor Edward T. Schafer pledged a more responsive government: "Above all else, citizens said they want a government that places a premiuxn on efficiency. They want a government that works for them, not against them. They want a government that is accountable and responsive to their needs, not to the needs of the bureaucracy....Now it is our term to deliver."
  • In Maine, Governor Angus S. King, an Independent, promised his election would once and for all change the direction of state government: "Is this all that can be done to make government more efficient, effective, and affordable? [Are these] all the programs that should be considered for cuts or consolidations? Certainly not. The ship of state won't stop on a dime, but let no one doubt that as of today, we've changed the course."
  • And in Indiana, Democratic governor Evan Bayh challenged his citizens "to let us build a government that is not only off our backs but on our side. Let us recreate a government that is both smaller and more just. Let us insist upon a government that not only does no harm but a government that once again becomes a force for positive change and the greater good."

From the federal government to many state and local governments, the reinvention craze continued. Democrats, Republicans, and Independents agreed that government was not working the way it should. But in most cases the problem was not with the government; it was with those who ran it.

Improving government has never been easy. That's why efforts are repeated year after year, administration after administration. History shows the constant tensions between good politics and good government. It shows the struggle between the executive and legislative branches seeking to change government. In fact, new administrations try to reinvent government so often, they run out of new ideas. Many recommendations carry over from report to report, some for more than fifty years.

For example, Vice President Gore's suggestion to close more than one thousand Department of Agriculture field offices where farms no longer exist, such as in cities and suburbs, was first made during the Eisenhower administration. Many of Gore's other specific cost-saving initiatives were proposed a decade earlier by the Grace Commission.

These commissions often promise the impossible, such as running government like a business or boosting workforce morale while cutting workers. While politically popular at first, these promises fuel cynicism when they never materialize. Instead of becoming manageable, government grows more complicated and more inefficient -- and more disliked.

The Grace Commission's John Heilshorn saw little reason for each successive administration to launch a brand-new management review of government. "I had no idea what went on in government when I started. I made a lot of mistakes," Heilshorn admitted. "Nobody reads history. We made so many m

Excerpted from You Won Now What?: How Americans Can Make Democracy Work from City Hall to the White House by Taegan D. Goddard, Christopher Riback
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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