What is “Better Government" ?

by David Paschane

What is" Better Government"?A colleague raised this question when we were discussing an online group called Better Government. Naturally, we discussed politics first. Why not? It is the most advertised and hyped aspect of government. It is where citizens trust government to begin, with some thought to where it all ends.

Knowing better, we eventually turned to the subject of operating government–the realities of effectiveness and efficiency among a large workforce, and its vast shadow of contractors.

As we tossed the operations of government around, we concluded that, for the most part, the nature of government is bureaucratization, thickening of friction and fat, and that this “nature” drives out the potential in government operations–potential for human growth, innovation, and enhancements, and overall transparency.

Not wanting to leave the discussion on a negative, we tossed around the concepts of what might be a better government, if we can ever overcome this organizational “nature.”

Here’s our list of 7 Better Government characteristics:

1. Sustainable means of increasing employee engagement, concentration, awareness, and discretion to make enhancements.

2. Easily accessible and adaptive strategic analytics to optimize individuals’ and organizations’ performance throughout the chain of work transitions.

3. Testable phases of emergent capabilities to lower risks and costs while extending out to meet emergent customer needs.

4. Accurate and visible attribution of performance leaders and partners so as to reward courage, commitment, and creativity.

5. Robust forecasting of alternative actions in operations, with readily accessible analyses of potential returns on investments.

6. Periodic facilitation and coaching of teams to take on enhancements while on the job, and collaborating with shared knowledge of operations.

7. Technology fitting to employee productivity, including flexibility in accessing remote computing and communication across dispersed personnel.

This may be the same list that affects any large organization. Given that government is one of the largest and most complicated to manage, maybe our list of 7 should be the subject of political debates. Who can lead Better Government?

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Managing BureaucratizationDavid Paschane, Ph.D.  is the Government Editor of Innovation Excellence. He is an Organizational Architect from the Washington D.C area. He is an Associate Research Professor at UMBC; a Founder and Volunteer at Military Alumni Transition Career Headquarters (MATCH) and the Director of Strategic Initiatives at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

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  1. David

    After working in government for most of my 30-year career, I agree your concepts would lead to better government. When leaders in governments where I have worked followed those suggestions, we’ve been able to make amazing progress. Unfortunately not every place has leaders who have the courage to follow your suggestions – one reason is because it requires putting aside egos and working together for the community. That’s not an easy thing to do for some people.

    And rather than govt getting better, over my career I’ve noticed what appears to be an increasing breakdown in govt management in some communities and particularly management of personnel in my field of engineering (which delivers services to govt). And I’ve spent a lot of time wondering why this is happening. Lately I’ve come to believe this damage to our operational/management ability is the forced application of a business admin approach. Too many in our field have gone on to get an MBA and tried to apply this training to govt ops – it doesn’t apply well at all and ends up following concepts opposite to what you have suggested. Unfortunately the public admin training must closely follow MBA training because that also seems to encourage concepts opposite to those you have suggested.

    Unfortunately, I’m not sure yet how to overcome the two obstacles I’ve mentioned.

    • Yes, ego has been a notable barrier to innovation in government, at least from what I’ve seen. So many folks are leading from the perspective that what they do must make themsleves first look important, and then have a verified positive effect.

      Regarding the MBA, I have a mixed response. I agree that more thinking needs to be dedicated to running government well, without confusing it with business parctices that don’t fit. This thinking needs to come form those who are in government, not just consultants for hire. On the other hand, I ‘ve seen some solid leaders with MBAs, so I don’t know if they have been able to adapt well, or have simply gravitated towards those government programs that are most business like in their operational and organizational needs.

      Thank you for the thoughtful note,
      David

  2. David,

    After #4 should be a statement to the effect: Prompt and timely termination of inept and incompetent government employees.

    I have maintained since the 1970’s one of the reasons our government bureaucracies have swollen is the inability of Secretaries, Under- & Deputy- Secretaries and Directors to terminate the incompetent employees similar to the manner private industry is able to rid itself of deadwood.

    Ted Daywalt

    • This was a recent discussion in my (government) office. We demonstrated that folks can be fired. It did take significant evidence, and a willingness to encourage people to change before firing was an option, but overall it turned out to be the best action for our office.

      Thank you for the comment,
      David

  3. If we vote our non US Citizen President out of office we WILL have better government. Obama has broken the constitution,the very document that base our faith in Am doesn’t listen to or abide with Congress, how can govt move forward. He is creating a scoialist society!

    • It is funny, I guess, that the political player gets most of the attention, while over 6 million Federal government workers lead the course of our government institutions, and their respective performance. For me, the latter is in need of signifiant attention, perhpas more so than the former.

      Thank you,
      David

  4. These are good thoughts, but I think you need to expand your concepts to include two important issues. First, politics have infected organizational performance by creating overlap and duplication that is both wasteful and destroys productivity of government employees. As GAO and Sen. Coburn have reported, many mission areas of government have 20-50 redundant programs spread across multiple agencies. A study by Univ of Chicago professors found that old programs don’t get killed or fixed when they have performance problems because their constituencies are so strong. As a result new programs get created, and their staffs are immediately in competition with the legacy programs. Add budget cuts, and you have a bad work environment where neither old or new program can reach performance targets…that makes for a bad work environment. Second, the second half of the 20th century Great Society deals cut by Pres. Johnson led to block grants to pay northern states for HUD and welfare programs that received the influx of migration from south to north. That created the government’s delivery channel whereby the federal government worked through states and local governments to deliver services, and hence the bulk of government interactions with citizens occurs at the local level. Now, with the Internet and e-Government, federal employees can interact directly with citizens. Meanwhile, the federalism concept has become a redistribution of wealth to service states that support the party in charge of Congress…redistributing federal tax and bond revenues to cover the costs of state employees, whose pension costs have grown beyond state revenue and trust funds. There clearly is a need to bring the government delivery and financial structure into the 21st century, especially at the agencies that were structured around great society programs, while leaders figure out the role of federal versus state and local government in providing services to citizens.

    • Thank you for the thoughtful comments.

      Both of your observations deserve greater attention from citizens. There is plenty of evidence to support your remarks. That being said, I suggest that the way forward is to establish a consistent, independently-verified standard for examining the effects of programs (not just the costs), and make these records easily avilable to the public. By putting the true report card out for everyone to see, we shift political debates towards Better Government rather than Ambigous Government. I think the GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 helps us finally move in this direction, but its realities depend on leaders to see it as an opportunity to raise the bar for comparative performance analyses.

  5. This is an excellent topic for discussion, thank you Dr. Paschane.

    As with any organization, quality management is key to better outcomes. Unlike most organizations, (democratic/republic) governments are managed by citizens. What leads to better management of government?

    Here are my thoughts to complement your list of 7;

    1) Good government is participatory. As with any development process, iteration is necessary to achieve optimized outcome. These iterations must consider input from the governing body as well as other stakeholders, including the governed. When citizens are distracted, confused or worn down, their interest lags and participation suffers. This inevitably leads to citizen complacency, government incompetence and obtuse policy.

    2) Good government is competent, yet fresh. People in the roles of elected or appointed officials must be competent at their jobs, however, new people must occupy the seats in short order to keep the pool of thought clean and uncorrupted. It is wise for a governed community to be intentional about the development and selection of candidates to this end.

    3) Good government is minimal. The laws of nature favor parsimony and humans are masters of unintended consequence. Each level of government and their constituents should be astute to the scope and scale of the government’s charter, defending against arbitrary expansion and therefore complexity.

    4) Good government is relevant. Across a massively varied population, the government has a responsibility to remain focused on issues that affect all constituents. Adopting a narrow focus to satisfy special interests creates irrelevant government activity for the majority. Should the government recognize a significant flaw in society’s ability to satisfy the needs of such special interest, the government should first do no more than encourage the appropriate conditions and actions of citizens and lower governments to respond appropriately.

    • Thank you Steve – good list of ideas!

      I agree, iteration is necessary, and that is what I meant by adaptive strategic analytics (#2) and testable phases of emergent capabilities (#3), but I did not relate it to the interaction of citizens. This is a worthwhile point.

      I also like the second point, that competency among fresh leaders is preferred. I agree, but have not identified a feasible way to achieve this type of leadership, especially when there are so many incentives for leaders to keep their posts as long as possible.

      The third point is very well taken, especially as I seek a science of governance, I too believe that parsimony is necessary to prevent the unwanted consequences of complexity and ambiguity.

      To your fourth point, relevance is warranted, but not, in my opinion, feasible. The demand for government benefits is not necessarily restricted by the status of the minority. And, the majority is a relevant term, base on the benefit in question. The U.S. Social Security system is for the majority, but if examined carefully, one could argue it is not always relevant—some don’t need it, some prefer alternative plans, and some may need it more.

      Thank you for the stimulating thought on each point,
      David

  6. David,
    There are many good ideas here. I would add that key aspects of better government are:
    1. a constant and intense focus on the needs of the ultimate customer of the agency or program’s services, as reflected in a short strategic plan and individual performance standards.
    2. a significant and unrelenting investment in recruiting and developing first line supervisors who are good leaders of people rather than technical experts
    3. senior executives who are constantly working their networks to identify problems to nip in the bud and opportunities to exploit
    4. solid instincts on the part of senior career civil servants for what they can do to offer their political bosses an opportunity to get credit in public for the program’s successes
    5. the wisdom to resist over-bureaucratizing success, which otherwise leads to diminishing marginal utility, and ultimately sows the seeds of programmatic failure

    • Scott,

      I like your approach, as you are identifying possible solutions to systemic problems.

      At the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, my small office follows much of your advice in the way we operate. We would enjoy sharing it with someone who is on the same page.

      Thank you.

  7. A couple of thoughts from across the Atlantic from someone who has undertaken several “fact finding study” tours to the US in my own field of employment, training, leadership, enterprise support and equality / diversity.

    Overall I am sure there a lot to be said for David’s seven key points especially in enhancing the managerial effectiveness of public services. I will not repeat the numerous points where I agree wholeheartedly. There are four points I would make –

    1. Managerially I agree with David’s point about employee engagement and the importance of discretion. However I am a trustee of an organisation in the UK called the Centre for Public Scrutiny. In this role i would be concerned by the extent to where – here at least – where technocrats (skilled or otherwise) tend to substitute their judgements without proper debate or analysis for democratic processes. Our current coalition government has in several public service areas acted to remove some of the constraints on the bureaucracy – while espousing policies of localism and deregulation. I think we all have some way to go in finding a proper balance between democratic mechanisms to set strategies and policy goals and managerial mechanisms to deliver them economically, efficiently and effectively. Several participants in the first Blair Government (1997 -2001)have commented to me that they came to office “wanting to be managers rather than to be political leaders”. By this they meant they were unprepared for the tough choices needing robust democratic leadership.

    2. I am also cautious about the “rate of return” references. I am all for robust RofR calculations to high professional standards where this makes sense. That said so much of public spending – including investment in large infrastructure projects, education and healthcare (in our context) – is extremely difficult to reduce to somewhat simple rate of return calculations. Somewhat naturally many infrastructure projects have highly complex flows of costs and benefits with numerous externalities and outputs that are in their essence public goods. Another of my roles is as a trustee of the UK’s Campaign for Better Transport. The UK government has recently committed to building “High Speed Two” a major new rail route broadly equivalent to European style high speed systems (France is about to launch 300 MPH+ trains. [High Speed Train One is the link from London to the Channel Tunnel and the French HST system]. The current model used by Government reduces to a calculus in which the dominant factor is the time saving to business because business leaders can get to London a few minutes quicker than at present – an approach which causes derision and ridicule amongst many people. [That said in my view the project is a good idea in wider “quality of life” and “happiness” terms as well as being a better use for scarce public money that continual subsidies to Banks.

    3.I would highlight great clarity about the underlying reason why the state is intervening in different activities. There is not always the rigor we need to justify interventions (or indeed the withdrawal of public involvement in these times of assumed austerity). in my experience those with technocratic tendencies often loose sight of the real goal and become blinded by targets – much like a rabbit in car headlights – and start doing silly things.

    4. The importance of trust is not highlighted. I very much agree with Pam’s perspective over a slightly longer time span. Two elements seem to be in play. Too many politicians and commentators are simply unwilling to trust any public servants. I have been reading recently about the UK’s enormously creative liberal government of about 100 years ago. The degree of trust and cultural affinity between ministers and permanent officials is really striking – though of course the rather less permanent status of senior officials in the US should make this less of a problem for you. The other issue is the role played by the media who again delight in knocking public officials – who in our system have no opportunity of redress. Both mechanisms combine to reduce the role of rational debate in public decision making. Linked to this is the growing role of political dogma. You may have noticed we have been hosting a well known sporting event in London. This has gone really well – much better than I expected knowing some of the people involved and notwithstanding the comments of a certain republican Candidate! The one disaster was the use of a private security firm for the events included for dogmatic not rational reasons. the result is that some 16,000 members of the police and armed forced have had to be deployed with less than 2 weeks notice. This was done smoothly and without a hitch. Sadly it looks as if G4S will still be paid – the politicians seemingly ignored advice on having a tightly drawn contract (though this is far from clear yet).

    I hope these perspectives are of interest. For the avoidance of doubt – as the lawyers say – I am highly critical of much of what happens in the public services (though not all of it can be laid at the door of public servants in our context at least) and feel that David’s points would help enormously.

    Eric

    • Eric, always a pleasure to get some of your wisdom out in the open – it challenges me to think about my own assumptions.

      On your first insightful point, I can see how a common discipline for analysis of government programs might make it more feasible for public engagement. If the rules of analyses are used consistently, and verified independently, then what citizens see is easy to understand, while appreciating the opportunities or constraints before the managers.

      Yes, rates of return are not necessarily universal tests, especially in government programs. My request is more on the cost of doing business, that is, the cost of operating governmentally. This is not to be mixed with the analyses of capital investments to gain a public good. That being said, there is still the measure of increased utility, given the cost and externalities.

      Your third point: The rigor to justify interventions….again, you hit the mark…, and I think we need to get to where the portfolio of government works is visible, consistently measured, and unambiguous, so the public has true governance.

      Lastly, trust. I guess the public does trust the government. In the U.S., the average total payment to government is a third of incomes. Or, as I like to say it, a “third of your work life” goes to support government operations. We must trust government, or there would be an outcry about the cost of such an investment that offers little visibility into its returns. That being said, I think that we, the public servants, should be careful to see that our work requires honesty about its success and failures; otherwise, we can’t make Better Government.

      Thank you,
      David

  8. I like this one. I think that in a decade from now, we may be there.

    7. Technology fitting to employee productivity, including flexibility in accessing remote computing and communication across dispersed personnel.

    • Yes! Much of my academic work is on the question: What is the future of work?

      I guess, as I apply that question to government, it becomes more: What to do about bureaucarcy?

      Thank you for the high-five,
      David

  9. We tend to view government like we do business and attempt to apply what works there to government. There is one major difference – government is in the business of spending money and justifying that activity. Business is in the business of making money and justifying doing so.

    You rules are good ones, but I would add a big one on accountability. There needs to be more teeth in government to bite those who are elected when they do achieve specific objectives.

    A tremendous example of this issue is the one year budget cycle in the US government. It has to go.

    Having dealt with the funding process in the government contracting industry (both large and small business) for over 40 years through many administrations and much frustration, I can discuss with some credibility this major weakness in the huge machine we call the US Federal Government. Its tail end is whipping everybody this summer and we are surely heading for another sanctimonious “Shutdown” by the time October is over.

    About mid-summer every agency begins to get paranoid about whether or not they have spent all their money, worried about having to return some and be cut back the next year. They flood the market with sources sought notifications and open solicitations to get the money committed. Many of these projects are meaningless.

    Then during the last fiscal month (September) proposals are stacked up all over the place and everything is bottle-necked. If you are a small business trying to get the paperwork processed and be under contract before the new fiscal year starts you are facing a major challenge.

    I believe we will be forced to give up the annual budgeting cycle and move to 4 year plan, syncronous with a new presidential election and put some teeth in it. Surely the one year cycle has become a ludicrous exercise we can no longer afford and our government is choking on it.

    Together with Sequestration we need to put in place something the CFO Act never achieved – true accountability in government fiscal management – top to bottom.

    • Ken,

      I was not expecting this to get into acquisition, but I am glad it did.

      You make very accurate observations. These are the issues that make me most frustrated with being a government employee, and why I think so many talented folks leave.

      I agree, accountability – for the cost of doing business, for the effects of the programs, and for the decisions that affect risk and human development.

      Perhaps the solution is two-fold. We award multi-year money to programs that demonstrate verifiable positive effects, and trim back funds for those that don’t—a meritocracy, if you will. Combine this with simplified acquisitions for short-course organizational development services that are verified as adding value, but are phased to end when they don’t fit the organizational realities.

      Thank you – we need more discussion on this issue – and a way to make it change systemically.

      David

  10. David,
    I’ve seen some of your concepts attempted in government within the last 20 years in my agency. Even the ones that start out working well are “fixed until they are broken”.
    The first 4 concepts are very good, and would be effective if in fact the ‘Whistle Blower’ act worked. Folks outside government wonder why more innovation by employees is not used, while folks inside government know that it’s a facade and suggestions are ignored and reports of abuse are punished.
    To Ted’s comment, I agree 100%, although unfortunately in my experience, Under- & Deputy- Secretaries and Directors are most often the ones that are the obstacles. Ineffective employees layered with other ineffective or incompetent employees creates a logjam that is devastating to communications, thereby a logjam in innovation and productivity.
    #7 could be very effective, except for security concerns. While these concerns are valid, hardware and software could be upgraded or invested in that would allow remote employees to be more participative as well as productive. The push has been towards remote/telework employees, but the technology has made that concept anything but effective.

    • Hey Jim,

      We’ve worked together – Chapter 33.

      The logjam is real—very real.

      Yes, the security has relevance in the technology, but I have some ideas on that. There is a lot more we could do with both the technolgoy and the performnce applicaitons, if we had the support to test aggressively, support by both senior leaders and contracting officers.

      Thank you,
      David

  11. A very good discussion, but in the end comes down to a general philisophical view of the role of government at every level and the degree to which one is satisfied or not with that performance.

    The role of government is to provide services and produce results for its citizens. Governments must meet human needs. Which needs, whose needs, and at what expenditure of resources are the perpetual challenges facing elected leadership. What truly separates nations in terms of their quality of life lies in the results that each seeks to produce for their residents and visitors, and the worth or priority each assigns to these results and recipients.

    When this linkage between meeting human need and the activities of the government agency is lost or inexact, poor government has been the outcome. Principles are very important and useful, as these 7 address, but it is the lack of cohesive feedback that seems to be lacking in government and frustrates so many citizens. John Sterman of MIT once wrote that feedback is the single greatest determinant of human behavior. In the private sector, this comes in the form of money for products and services, from investment in equity or bonds, or from reputation of quality of places to work or products/services produced. Not so much in government.

    I would submit for discussion that the key to improvement is as much the data-driven performance metrics which measure the activities on the 7 or 9 or however many measurements designated which in turn must tie to some kind of specific service or result for the citizen. Abscent this, we’re unlikely to see sustained improvement.

    • Yes Alex,

      Feedback is the most valuable tool we have, and it is not used well in government. Much of the thinking abouve is relevant to the need for feedback.

      We might have a chance of maturing real feedback with the GPRA Modernization Act of 2010, if leaders show such commitment.

      Wish us luck,
      David

  12. An excellent topic for discussion: Let me simply defined Government as a machinery through which Policies and Programmes are implemented or executed, which summarily means service delivery to people.A better Government is one that is efficient and effective in service delivery: working for its people in the best tradition of globally cherished values.

    • Yes, you are correct. Now, let us explore the challenges of becoming efficient and effective in our policies and programmes. That is the rub.

      Thank you,
      David

  13. I would try to make the goals simpler and easier to understand for the general public. I think this iteration uses too much jargon to be readily accessible by the average voter or citizen.

    • Andy,

      I agree, here you go:

      Better Government (BG7) is to help the millions of Govies (1) get skin in the game, (2) have a keen sense of how their work creates outcomes, (3) give them a chance to test phase of their work, (4) give them credit for how they make a difference, (5) get them the tools to account for the true cost of doing their business, (6) given them permission to collaborate on making things work less bureaucratically, and (7)prepare them to work in contemporary ways.

      Let’s add to that insights from our colleagues here – overcome the barriers created by politicians, reinforced by career leaders, and facilitated by contracting and budgeting methods.

      Thank you,
      David

  14. With regard to number 5, quite of bit of resources are expended on what-if planning and preparation to support just-in-time delivery for key program and acquisition managment components to enable on-time delivery. This is done to address lead times necessary to support program and acquisiton milestones which happen far in advance of funding authorization and execution. I am concerned that the capability to maintain operational readiness for execution will be impacted by the administration’s directive to cut program management costs. Thoughts?

    • There are a lot of opinions on the issues you raise. My approach with #5 has been to do one think differently:

      I do the math first.

      In other words, I figure out the scenarios that matter, run some general calculations, and then ask my colleagues if the answers make sense. If they make sense and seem to lead to an outcome that has value, I push to make a simple model of the work. If that seems to make sense, I test it against the status quo. If the model demonstrates to be better than the status quo, I find a way to put the model into use, and let others discover its impact on the system.

      This approach is more like science than management, and it requires a small ego and patience because failure is all you see at first. However, it gives me a chance to improve the operations, reduce costs, and get vetted by colleagues before there is much risk involved. This approach can withstand cut-backs while making operations better.

      Thank you,
      David

  15. Government is suffering from a type of analysis paralysis. Government has shifted too far to into the policy spectrum. Yes there was a need to improve its policy ability, effectiveness and efficiency (better social policy, engaging with stakeholders, community engagement etc), however its my opinion that government now has too many policy focuses people and not enough internally operationally focused people or at least too few who understand government and ‘corporate’ operations. Some of the most basic IT concepts of how to increase system efficiency and minimise actual losses go over their heads. Government organisations are crumbling from the inside. To paraphrase a quote ‘The strength of government is in the faith of the institutions we work for’. The more government departments decline inside the less the public service believes in the institution and it will ultimately fail.

    Better government is continuing to analyse government’s strengths and weaknesses and address those issues. The seven characteristics are large ‘corporate’ operational issues, we need to have a good look at government and get our ‘house’ in order

    • I think you are right on the mark! In fact, you should be writing the next blog on government.

      Yes, the BG7 list is more about internal operations, and not much about policy. However, having been a policy analyst for the government, I would suggest that less ambiguous accountability of government operations, per program, would force policy folks to watch these results before making more policy.

      In another blog, I argue that there is another outcome of government besides policy and production, and that is performance leadership – the ability of government employees to make the work better.

      http://www.innovationexcellence.com/blog/2012/04/13/leadership-as-an-agency%e2%80%99s-outcome/

      Thank you,
      David

  16. David,

    I don’t disagree with any of your seven points, BUT you are missing the only true purpose of government and that is to SERVE the citizens!

    All too frequently in my 30+ year service in the Commonwealth of Mass did I witness state employees forgetting this fundamental tenant. It doesn’t matter what trainings and entitlements you provide to government employees if, in the first place, they do not come to the job with the understanding that their role is to provide SERVICE!

  17. I appreciate the opportunity to comment and I have always enjoyed reading David Paschane’s articles. I attended the GovLoop NextGen 2012 conference recently held in Washington, D.C. I participated in round table discussions and other sessions with our youth who were primarily in the federal government. I observed a sincere desire to have an impact and to be a part of change. Also, I did notice a resonance amongst many young females about their need to “perserver”. I wish I had thought to ask them what they meant by “perservering”…Maybe you know? The challenge for the baby boomers (I am a baby boomer too) is to mentor these youth because they are Tomorrows Leaders. LIKE US at http://on.fb.me/KMWp4j

    • Great to hear that you are helping the next generation!

      One way I think we can help is to get them skilled up as Performance Analysts –the ability to be highly effective with contemporary analytic platforms. Another way is to encourage their participation in cross-agency awareness of the effects of the various agencies.

      Any other suggestions?

      Thank you,
      David

  18. Hi David,

    I really appreciate to post a comment on your publication. I’ve read with attention what you wrote and all comments from readers. Very interesting and so similar.

    I live in Switzerland and I work in Governement of Geneva since 20 years. US and Switzerland Govs are similare. Federalism in both.

    I agree with your 7 points and agree with most of readers comments. I appreciate your efficient reformulation in your reply of August 7, 10:42.
    I read “Ego, attention from citizens, quality management, innovation, productivity, incompetence, etc.”. I might add procrastination.

    We have concerns and most of them are the same. We still have a lot of work and it’s good to see that we work in same direction and we are not alone.
    All of us, we are working for a better Gov, even if we each has his own.

    Thank you
    Paul

    • Thank you Paul. It is good to hear from you and get the validation with regard to our shared experiences. If you are not a member yet, I encourage you to join Better Government in LinkedIn. The group has over 5,000 members from nearly every country in the world.

      By the way, my grandmother’s family is from Bern, and I was there, as well as Geneva, Luzzane, and others. Beautiful country!

      Thank you,
      David

  19. Hi David,
    Hope you are doing well. These are very good characteristics you and your colleagues have chosen. I do have some overall observations after spending a number of years in the Federal Government both as an internal agency manager and an analyst evaluating programs in some of the largest federal agencies.
    So based on my observations and experience I think your first point is a very important one. Employees at the lowest levels know what is wrong with federal systems and processes and their active engagement and support by management in identifying and proposing enhancements would go a long way towards improving government performance. I think back on the TQM push of the 90’s—the concept held great promise but was never effectively embraced by management and was poorly implemented. But the concept of “employee empowerment” to identify and make changes to the government operations is at the heart of your point.
    Your second point is definitely a problem that needs to be address. I often found organizational strategies did not include sound analytics thereby making it difficult to assess performance at any level. I was fortunate to have a team that embraced this concept and produced a set of performance measures that exposed our shortcomings but with good problem solving revealed the path toward improvements. Performance management becomes a sustainable activity once employees understand that by revealing organizational shortcomings directly tied to their work, they become proactive in identifying and instituting changes that really make a difference
    Point three is without a doubt important whether it involves changes to programs, policies or technology. I use the old DoD term “fly before you buy”. It testable phases are well designed, monitored and reported the chance of missteps during implementation are greatly reduced plus it will provide a facts versus feelings when designing the ultimate solution. This becomes extremely important during the change management process, i.e., convincing the implementers and recipients that due diligence was used in arriving at the solution.
    I think your 4th point is often overlooked or not given appropriate consideration, especially with the partners, which I interpret as contractors. Organizations often lose sight as to the importance not only to the leaders and the team in general but also those that stand to be affected by the change(s) brought about by these individuals. It is a management responsibility to stay engaged, be informed and respond accordingly to acknowledge performance leaders and their partners. I have personally seen this become a learning experience in an organization and brought others to the table as performance leaders once they see that hard work and effort does matter and makes a difference.
    In my mind point five goes hand in hand with points one and three—continuous improvement and testable phases should include alternative solutions with potential ROI. Equally important is once an alternative is selected and the potential ROI is documented, there needs to be a post implementation review after the change has been fully implemented to clearly document the extent that the potential ROI was actually realized. By doing so the efficacy of the evaluation process and project can be validated.
    One area that can help attain all or some of the better government characteristics is a formal program in government organizations to identify and train potential leaders (supervisors, managers and senior executives). Several federal organizations have programs for the senior executive level but below that leadership development is essentially course driven training. In many cases supervisors and managers are in those positions because they were successful in their prior position and not necessarily the skills and abilities to lead people and programs. So a real management/leadership trainee/mentoring program could go a long way towards “better government”. For example, cultivating leaders that have the qualities to get individuals engaged in the process because the vision is clear, compelling, and is held steady for an extensive period of time until organizational reality and the working staff catch up — and for good measure then lead the organization into a “value-added phase.” Equally important is the ability to create an environment for learning that inspires a value for individual growth.
    Best Regards
    Tony Cicco

    • Tony,

      Your wisdom and experience is evident in your comments. I appreciate having someone with your inside and outside experience. You have put the polish on my points, and made them sound better than I could have. Thank you

  20. Jennifer Petrino

    David, Your blog is interesting. Those seven items would create better government but before we get there we have to remove the myriad obstacles that prevent that from happening. Most of them are immovable. to me better government delivers the level of services that it can afford to deliver and that are necessary to the well being of the public served by the government. The seven items you suggest would enable us to do that more efficiently but the real question is how do we do that now without the ideal environment and resources? What are the baby steps we can take? Let’s start witha n “easy” one. Federal partisanship. My state is leagues ahead of most in delivering better health care services and has proposed a plan to go even farther interms of better services and improved delivery efficiencies. CMS has dogged the state with a republican governor in every phase while another Democratic state flew through with less info and less impactful changes. It is costing the state billions and is preventing aggressive improvements that are needed.

    • Jennifer,

      That is an interesting example, and one that is dear to my heart. I spent the first part of my career in healthcare strategy and sciences. I too saw amazing manipulation of the system, especially as states and Federal government pursue different goals. The separation of accountability is a problem, as is the use of Federally-distributed funds to influence politics. Maybe the consideration for all of us should me how can we consistently evaluate outcomes, and then attribute them to the role of various political bodies? As a Federalized system, this seems to be a valid question, and it is too bad that it is not the normal way of our accountability.

      Thank you for the challenging question,
      David

  21. David, you might want to check on the legality of using the title “Architect” (with or without modifiers) in the jurisdictions where you practice and do business without a license to practice architecture in that jurisdiction. I know of no State or District where it is currently legal.

    Otherwise, “That government is best which governs least.” -Thoreau

    If efficiency in government means governing less while consuming less in resources, then I support it. If it means governing more or the same while consuming less in resources, then I can’t give it my wholehearted support.

    • Sean,

      I see the irony in your comment. Is my title legal according to the government, and that government should do less.

      I am a government employee, and my title in government depends on the work of the day. My unusual work is to reduce the cost of operating business in government, and as a result, determine what work is no longer needed. It will take public review of the whole programs to determine which work should be kept or removed from the total government portfolio.

      Thank you for adding your thoughts,
      David

  22. Enjoyed your read. Shared on facebook, always love hearing new and alternative insights and perceptions. I eagerly await the anticipated responses of your blog on my alternate media source.

    Best wishes,

    -April

  23. David,

    I like your ideas, but I don’t think they’re actionable as written. Every incompetent government manager will say that they’re increasing employee engagement, optimizing performance, rewarding courage and commitment, etc. – even if they’re referring to some rambling speech they made at a Christmas party.

    Michael Pollin, a food journalist, once took a large body of nutrition research, and condensed it into easy-to-apply rules like, “If the cereal changes the color of the milk, don’t eat it.”

    Let me translate a few of your points into Pollin-esque rules, born from my work in government IT:

    For #7: Laptops should take no more than 2 minutes to start

    My government laptop take over 8 minutes to boot up and get online, complete with multiple sign-on screens and various messages that have to be clicked off. Government IT organizations, looking for CYA as opposed to productivity, routinely saddle laptops and other IT equipment with inefficient and duplicative software that slow performance without commensurate benefit. Encryption and single sign-on are good. The pile of garage sale software for “security”? Bad.

    For #2 and #5: Any data reported externally should have a system of record

    Strategic analytics, accountability, and optimization mean nothing if the data is made up. I’ve seen many organizations do very well on the scale of monkeys flying out of PowerPoint and Excel. There will always be a need for Excel, but any core number that drives calculations and is important enough to report externally – e.g., funds obligated, number of staff, facility location and square footage – should have a “single version of the truth,” pushed from a designated official data source to all other systems that use it. In the status quo, multiple disconnected data systems hold different versions of the same numbers, meaning that basic facts are often wrongly reported or unknown.

    (Corollary: If you can’t name the system of record, you don’t have one.)

    For #3: Pay contractors according to milestones, not “percent complete”

    I’ve seen many contractors not deliver – but get paid as if nothing were wrong. Contracts paid out in terms of percent complete hum along until you get near the completion mark and realize that almost nothing has been completed. It takes work to design contract stage gates that are substantial enough to deliver value to the government but numerous enough to smooth payroll for small contractors, yet it can be done. The best savings in IT is to collect business requirements in-house, so that the contours of the need are known.

    Yvonne

    • Dear Professor David,

      I completely agree with you regarding your consized points.

      Applying the organizational behavior theories and enhancing the human performance can driver the worker in governmental sector to take the charge regarding their accountability and to bear the responsibility to achieve the success for themselves and to their organizations the matter which leads to a tangible ROI to their work environment and community.
      Not to mention the ability to apply and comply with the new technologies which are designed to facilitate their work stream.

      Ahmad

  24. C. Michael Benavides

    How about simply putting like this. Make the politicians work for the people, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. I maybe old fashion but, the the government checks and balances built in and the will of the people should be our moral compass for good government. If not vote them out and get leadership that will do the job. Do not sit on the sideline get involved.

  25. Like your list. Concise but also points out that governments generally need to be a little more savvy when it comes to expenditure. But there a two things I would have liked to see added to the list.

    1. Governments to learn to interact with various sectors better to enable it to help release their potential to government aims better to their customers – communities etc.

    2. Technology or die – Governments employees must learn to get better at this now using this to their local engagement advantage or risk being out manoeuvred and contracted out by private firms as there are plenty of opportunity costs, gains and efficiencies to be made i.e. paying taxes, parking tickets, instant mapping of soft and hard crime, job centres etc. This revolution is going to have a deep impact on local government management services making it leaner.

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