Dear Mr. Chairman: An open letter to the new Chairmen of the government oversight committees in both Houses

by Steve Goodrich

November 11, 2014

The midterm elections clearly demonstrated that the American people are longing for Congress to do something different. The new Congress needs to begin addressing big issues that past Congresses have failed to do. Reforms in social insurance programs, tax law, civil service, immigration, and many others are critical for the American people and the health of our nation. These issues need to be addressed by Congress as a whole, but the Committees on Oversight and Government Reform in the House and Homeland Security and Government Affairs in the Senate need to take on real reform to improve the health of our government.

The mere thought of reforming our government for efficiency and effectiveness is daunting given its shear mass. As long as I can remember, and that's for a very long time, we all continually read about efficiency, effectiveness, and mismanagement issues in the news and from government reports. Consider the billion dollar Navy system that was never launched due to mismanagement, the amount of time it takes for a Federal employee to receive a retirement check, tremendous excess real estate, failed EHR systems, management struggles at DHS, the list goes on. In fact, the list is very, very long and has not gotten shorter. With all the OMB initiatives, GAO reports, Congressional hearings, new legislation, etc., we just don't seem to be making much of a dent in this important undertaking.  So it must be time for a new approach. 

More hearings, laws, and OMB initiatives are not the answer. We already have a program inventory (somewhat), GPRAMA, FMFIA, VA management reforms, Presidential initiatives, as well as GAO and IG reports. What we need is something different. We need decisions, focus, forward movement, and accountability.

With this as a basis I urge the Chairmen of both the Senate and House Committees' of jurisdiction to consider the following three things as soon as the Committees are reformed under the new Congress.

Acquire the tools. In this fast paced world and the number of issues facing Congress it is hard to get much done in a year. But it can be done. The oversight Committees need better tools to carry out their mission. That is why I strongly suggest Congress pass the Government Transformation Act (GTA) currently before both Houses (H.R. 2675 and S.1297).  Following on the success of passing the Data Act, the new Congress can begin its tenure by quickly addressing this legislation to establish a Government Transformation Office or Board. Given the workload of Congress, this is their tool for getting the work done.

Leveraging OMB's program inventory, and the good work of GAO and IG's, GTA can provide the mechanism to systematically assess government programs and make the hard decisions required to eliminate or realign programs that no longer serve the intended purpose. GTA can help eliminate the fighting across the aisle that gets in the way of making tough choices and derails every attempt at taking action on inefficient and ineffective programs. Require that these programs be reengineered, duplication eliminated, and their management approach strengthened so they can better serve the American people and save money.

Focus on the practical, not the political. The management reforms required to create a more responsive, efficient, and economical government are not partisan, they are just common sense. These reforms are necessary to reduce the cost of government and make it more efficient through the elimination of waste and the improvement of processes, decision-making, and program execution. Stop the partisan bickering, the political grandstanding, and work together to achieve meaningful and measurable results. Measure the Committees' effectiveness along with that of the agencies. Every six months report your results to the American people. You can do this through a common website or through the CBO or GAO. Or do this in partnership with the White House as a team who puts the American people first.

Allow the agency heads to manage and lead. If they genuinely need more resources allow it, if they don't achieve outcomes, move these resources to where they can be beneficial. Require OPM to establish an easy transfer program across agencies with preferential treatment for highly qualified Federal employees, using a matrix management approach to get the business of government accomplished.  And by all means ensure managers have the ability to hire, fire, and develop right!

I understand that some waste is inevitable but it should not be due to ineffective management, poor decision making, or playing budget games with Congress. Perhaps one hand grenade on the battlefield will do the job, but I feel much better having six with me just in case.  I am not talking about cutting costs inappropriately, I am saying there are many opportunities to serve people better and reduce the cost of government by reducing complexity, reengineering processes, sharing systems and eliminating duplication. Hold agencies accountable for results, ethics, efficiency, and working together. 

Provide for a leadership structure that is lasting and systemic across agencies. In our political system the administration and leaders change frequently, causing constant shifts that are often seismic in nature. New political appointees at multiple levels across an agency take over, agendas change, good intentions abound, and waste and inefficiency happens.  Few pay attention to what is really going on in the hallowed hallways as the immediate consumes the important and strong management is taxed or disintegrates. We won't get rid of all issues, but we could reduce them significantly with strong leadership and management. Good people and programs need good leadership.  

I propose a refinement to the selection of Chief Operating Officers (COO's) that provides for 10-year appointments, requiring specific skills and experience, and the appointment of deputies solely focused on efficiency, effectiveness, and economy with required reporting on achievements to OMB and Congress. This change should also focus on Inspector General (IG) reform, allowing them full access to all agency records and sharing findings across agencies, as well as publicly reporting their results. IG's should work with COO's as a team to effect change. 

This change should also require agencies to share best practices, systems, and purchases across agencies. Shared services must be fully implemented. Changing to a two-year budget cycle would reduce tremendous pressure and burden on the agencies. Requiring agencies to reduce the complexity of management, processes, and decision-making across their agencies will reap dividends and accelerate progress. 

Efficient and effective government is not just about the big legislative initiatives needed.  It is also about reforming the efficiency and effectiveness of government so that strong systemic management leads the way to managing all programs efficiently.  While the biggest part of the budget is mandatory spending, it is the discretionary spending that makes government effective or gets it in trouble. It's time for the Committees of jurisdiction to take immediate and bold action, answering the call from the American people to achieve reform.

Dear Mr. Chairman, I urge you to establish a two-year agenda selecting critical systemic reform requirements and implementing the changes above. Don't be distracted by the politics of the day, stick to an agenda and get meaningful work accomplished. This is critical to our nation's economy, addresses our budget struggles, and can help regain the trust of the American people.

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