Reinventing for results
- By Heather Harreld
- Sep 20, 1998
While the nation's attention was riveted this month on Mark McGwire leading the quest to break baseball's single-season home run record, Morley Winograd's attention was drawn to remarks made by Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rossotti regarding the possibility that the fan who caught the record-breaking homer would owe taxes.
Contradicting press reports that the fan would owe hundreds of thousands of dollars in gift taxes even after returning the ball to McGwire, Rossotti noted that the fan would "deserve a round of applause, not a big tax bill."
Winograd, senior policy adviser to Vice President Al Gore and director of the National Partnership for Reinventing Government (NPR), noted that the IRS of the past never would have issued such a customer-friendly statement. "That's a different government," he said.
Winograd, whom Gore named to head the NPR a year ago, came to Washington, D.C., from California after a career devoted to information technology and politics. He had served as chairman of Gore's presidential primary campaign in Michigan in 1988.
Winograd began his career in politics almost 30 years ago by participating in local Michigan politics while working in his father's men's clothing stores. By 1970, he was elected chairman of the Oakland County Democratic party. And by 1973, he was elected chairman of Michigan's Democratic Party, a position he held for the rest of the decade.
In 1979, Winograd left full-time participation in politics to work for AT&T in Michigan, where he witnessed the company's transformation after the breakup of the old telephone monopoly.
The role that technology played in the formation of the new work culture at post-monopoly AT&T stayed with Winograd.
"It wasn't just a question of placing technology into an existing system or culture because most people think the technology itself is a cause of change," Winograd said. "The technology enables a change to occur because the use of technology changes people's beliefs."
While at AT&T, Winograd had a firsthand look at emerging technologies and their potential. During the early 1980s, he was a regional salesman specializing in networking for the company's small-business market. That was when AT&T began selling its first Internet products and PCs.
"I can remember the fascination with the spreadsheet [and] financial-calculation capabilities," he said. "The real power of information technology came to me when somebody showed me the cut-and-paste feature. After that, I was hooked."
Winograd's interest in the evolving role of IT in the political arena led him to join the Democratic Leadership Council in 1988, where he began to formulate an agenda outlining the "new politics for the Information Age." Winograd presented this agenda, along with theories on how to win the White House during the Information Age, to the DLC in 1990. One of the audience members during that speech was Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton.
In 1996, Winograd incorporated his theory on politics in the Information Age into a book called Taking Control: Politics in the Information Age, which Clinton and Gore read. The theme of the book, along with Winograd's work that same year to align California's state government with the requirements of the Information Age, captured the attention of Gore when he was looking for a new NPR director.
One of the underlying themes of the book is that if technology is to serve the public interest and not the other way around, "a new set of public policies is needed that will be nothing less than a social contract for the Information Age," Winograd wrote.
Winograd said Access America, which is a core NPR plan to deploy commonly requested government services online through kiosks and similar systems, is the best example in the program of putting technology into service for the public interest.
"The Net and its evolution has been of a great democratizing nature in putting power in individual citizens and allowing them to take control," he said. "Access America is designed to provide a set of services for different kinds of government customers so they can interact with their government in a way that is online and easy. People should feel, 'Oh, this works for me; this isn't some technology barrier I have to overcome.' It opens up the possibility of changing the rules of how we think about what government does."
Still, Winograd said he is challenged by the overwhelming task of "turning this giant aircraft carrier toward the notion of understanding customers and responding to them." In addition, he feels pressure to contend with the massive amount of work involved with reinventing the government within a limited time. Still, he enjoys the challenge of tackling the course changes needed to steer the government toward the next century, and he hopes to leave his mark.
"The government is the biggest playground you could be invited into in terms of organizational change," Winograd said. "I want people to say, 'Through his leadership, the NPR team changed the way government works forever.' "