A thing we can agree on
- By Steve Kelman
- Aug 07, 2000
I recently attended a fascinating meeting about the contracting issues that
will face the new administration.
It was co-sponsored by the Reason Public Policy Institute, a libertarian-inclined
think tank with lots of Republican ties, along with Washington-based good
government organizations such as the Council for Excellence in Government
and the National Academy of Public Administration. It's one of a four-part
"transition dialogue series" on management issues for the next president.
The meeting brought together a bipartisan cast of characters and several
senior career government officials dealing with procurement. Carl DeMaio,
who directs the institute's "21st Century Government Project" and used to
work on Results Act issues for Rep. Dick Armey (R-Texas), kicked off the
meeting by noting that Washington, D.C., was filled with transition activities
involving policy issues such as how the United States should behave toward
China. But there were few activities focusing on crucial management issues
affecting the quality of the government's performance.
What was most revealing about the meeting was the level of consensus
about President Clinton's and Vice President Gore's procurement reforms,
and the management philosophy embodied in the re-inventing government movement.
There was disagreement about whether contracting out functions performed
by government employees should increase, but there was remarkable agreement
that contracting changes have made it easier for the government to obtain
DeMaio's first question to the audience, "What improvements have occurred
in contracting over the last decade," produced a torrent of praise for procurement
reform. More innovation, the spread of best—value contracting, improved
communication with industry, use of past performance, changes at the General
Services Administration and even the progress of performance-based contracting
received approval from the crowd. (Interestingly, the most visible feature
of procurement reform — the ability to make awards faster — received only
Judging from the tone of those remarks, procurement reform is a bipartisan
Just as revealing was the general tone of participants, particularly
the Republicans, toward government and toward the "liberate the front lines"
philosophy of the reinventing government effort. There was not a peep of
contempt for lazy or pointy-headed bureaucrats. Participants liked the idea
of reducing rules that make it difficult for federal employees to shine.
I was blown away to hear Republicans refer to "dedicated public servants"
and "innovative federal workers."
The theme of this meeting was improving government, not bashing government.
And the consensus about management issues is good news for better government,
because it suggests that the sensible approaches that began with the total
quality management efforts of the Bush administration and that expanded
during eight years of Clinton-Gore will continue no matter who wins in November.
—Kelman was the administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy
from 1993 to 1997. He is now Weatherhead Professor of Public Management
at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.