Addressing the Fiscal Cliff is Not Enough

by Steve Goodrich

January 3, 2013

Change Will Take Place

Other than raising some taxes, Congress and the White House have done little to fix the fiscal crisis by December 31, 2012, and have kicked the can down the road to the new Congress, our federal agencies continue to do the nation's business the way they always have, while the American people wonder what will happen next and what the impact will be on our country. Most recognize the need to respond to this crisis with fiscally responsible and meaningful solutions that reduce spending and increase revenue for the short term. Many recognize the need to address critically needed reforms in managing the deficit, ensuring social programs are capable of meeting their intended purpose, fixing the broken tax code, reforming the civil service system, and improving the budget process. Yet distressingly few of our politicians are addressing the inescapable fact that we must transform the way government works in order to ensure an efficient and effective approach to serving the American people within our means - lower cost, fewer and shared resources, efficient program management, and reduced duplication and waste.

The path the government is on is not sustainable, jeopardizing our short and long-term standard of living, our position on the world stage, and the government's ability to serve the American people. Changes will not be easy and will impact all of us, yet is imperative for our future strength. We cannot kick the can down the road by fixing the immediate crisis and hoping that magic will fix the future. We must address the long-term health of the government now to ensure its sustainable effectiveness in the future. Self-interests and extreme ideology must be put aside for the good of the country, hard choices made, and strong and regular communications provided to the American people.

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Transforming the Way Government Works is a Critical Part of the Solution

We have an opportunity now to transform our government into an effective, efficient, results-driven, nation-centric organization. Reforming the way the government performs will save money, eliminate waste, realize measureable outcomes, increase collaboration across agencies, and better serve the American people.

In addition to the fiscal crisis, there are other factors that make this the right time to undertake a comprehensive government transformation. Since the enactment of GPRA in 1993, the government has matured to be more data centric, with decades of focus on being performance-based. Yet leaders and managers do not always make effective data-driven decisions, and true organizational effectiveness is not well understood and addressed. Expediency inherent in our political system often limits our capacity to be effective. Duplication of programs and infrastructure abound throughout the government, providing significant opportunity to streamline how we manage programs and achieve results. Technological advances can help significantly. The government is now retiring people faster than they are hiring, potentially losing critical knowledge, but also providing an opportunity to create more effective ways of conducting work. These factors combined with the fiscal crisis and more provide the opportunity to take a fresh look at what government does and how it does it.

We have to ask what business the government should be in, what programs should be cut back or eliminated, what state and local governments should support, and what the American people should do for themselves. Once determined we can then ensure what is remaining is addressed with maximum effectiveness.

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Consider these few examples:

  • Looking at the economic drivers within the US, do all farm subsidy programs still make sense? Can some be eliminated or made more effective? What legislative or regulatory changes are needed?
  • We spend $18B per year on 47 job training programs administered across 9 agencies. Are those programs still effective? Reducing the administrative costs by 3% through a more centralized management approach would save over $500 million? Shouldn't we do that?
  • Almost all agencies operate their own HR systems. Since a central repository of data now exists for all HR, payroll, and training data, can we gain significant efficiency through more consistent and effective shared services, reducing risk, and saving millions in contract and duplicated dollars? 
  • We spend $62.5B per year on food assistance programs, can they be administratively streamlined and any fraud, waste, and abuse eliminated, saving perhaps $1B?
  • What opportunities exist for a more streamlined multi-year budget cycle rather than the current arcane 1-year budget process? Many managers and leaders spend vast amount of organizational resources only to begin the next cycle as soon as the last one is complete. Some programs are stopped after a short period of time wasting last year's money. Continuing Resolutions end up costing money and limiting agencies ability to execute key programs. The budget process can be streamlined into a multiyear approach along with the required oversight and controls.  

These are just a few of thousands of examples where opportunity exists for transforming vertical programs or horizontal infrastructure. The point is, it is now time to take a comprehensive, non-partisan, all-inclusive look at our government, what it does, and how it does it to garner significant savings, make it more efficient and effective, and provide meaningful and measureable results to the American people.

Our political leaders and agency executives, along with the private, non-profit, and academic sectors must come together with a single goal of transforming the way we govern to reduce costs by providing the right services efficiency and effectively.

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A Statutory Commission is Required to Lead This Transformation

To achieve this transformation, Congress and the President need to immediately establish a statutory non-partisan Commission on Government Transformation. A long standing, bipartisan, all-inclusive Commission would drive a consistent methodology to review agencies, programs, infrastructure, and cross-government programs, and make recommendations to the President and Congress to effect the necessary changes.

This would not be a short-term effort such as the Simpson-Bowles Commission. That Commission certainly did good comprehensive work in a short period of time, but had a more focused agenda looking at policies that could improve our fiscal situation. However, it was not a statutory commission and had no authority to achieve a return on investment for the American people. Likewise, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) does great work reviewing programs, but does not have the manpower or authority to guide or direct change.

The Government Transformation Commission (GTC) would be a long standing Commission which would systematically select and review government programs based on specified criteria, using a consistent methodology, and making recommendations to the President for meaningful improvement and to Congress when legislative action is required. The Commission would retain oversight to ensure results are achieved. The Commission should realize at least a 10x return on investment, saving tens of billions of dollars. The Commission would also be responsible for collaboration and managing change and educating agency leaders and managers.  They would report regularly to the President, Congress, and the American people.

An effort to establish such a Commission is now underway. It is called the Government Transformation Initiative (GTI), a non-profit, all-inclusive, non-partisan, transparent coalition of corporations, non-profits, and academics who strongly support the need to help our government be more economical, effective, results driven, future focused, respected, and sustainable. This effort is led by former Comptroller General David Walker, Barry Melancon, CEO of AICPA, and myself, Steve Goodrich. The goal of GTI is to support Congress and the President in putting in place the legislation to establish the Commission and its authority, methodology, structure, and systems.

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To Succeed Leaders Must Think and Act Differently

To be successful, all leaders from the top down to the executives and managers throughout agencies must think and act differently. The significant changes that are taking place must combine with a new way of leading the agencies that views systemic program effectiveness as a critical management tool that balances with the imperatives of our government and nation. This means that while important initiatives and work needs to get done, effectiveness cannot be usurped. Leaders must act to ensure results are measured and achieved while the capacity of their organization is built around sustainable, efficient and effective systems. More importantly, the results achieved must be meaningful to the American people, and within the means and the charter of the Federal government. In other words, government has the right programs, managed effectively, and leaders are not afraid to make changes or eliminate programs when they cease to add value to the nation.

Agency leaders must be willing to share resources, systems, and effective models across agencies and programs. They must be willing to share services, know-how, programs, tools, methods, and technology, so that other agencies may achieve more rapidly and avoid or reduce costs. Leaders should be actively looking at how other agencies or other sectors do things and use and adopt their systems and infrastructure rather than reinventing the wheel or spending time and money to duplicate what already exists. Regulations should support transformation. Congress must be willing to make adjustments in appropriations and authorizations to support cross agency collaboration to inhibit duplication and redundancy.

Government leaders must embrace and work with the Commission openly to ensure their organization is as effective and nation-centric as it can be. It is a collaborative, transparent undertaking with a consistent and defined methodology to ensure biases are mitigated and the government is positioned to achieve for our country. To change how we govern and support the American people, this Commission will provide the catalyst, and be held accountable for systemic change.

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