Book excerpt: Management after Sept. 11
- By Thomas H. Stanton
- Jun 21, 2004
Since Sept. 11, 2001, the United States has become much more interested in making government manageable than at any time in recent decades. In addressing the credible threat of terrorism, mere gestures are not enough. The responsible government departments and agencies are expected to carry out their missions effectively, and the public will judge the results. "Making Government Manageable: Executive Organization and Management in the Twenty-First Century" addresses the need to increase the focus and effectiveness of the federal government with respect to homeland security and other functions of government.
The core theme of this book relates to the fragmentation of organization and management structures of government and ways to improve executive organization and management to overcome the consequences of this fragmentation. The book addresses how fragmentation of government has occurred in multiple dimensions:
Growth of "personal democracy" and a tendency for individuals to use courts, administrative procedures and the administrative process to achieve their advocacy ends.
Diminution of the capacity of the president to serve as the manager of the federal government, as reflected in the loss of capacity for management analysis and support in the Office of Management and Budget compared to earlier periods.
Growth of agency-specific laws that reduce the ability of the president to manage a governmentwide civil service or budget system.
Expansion of third-party government and especially outsourcing.
Increased vulnerability to fundamental weaknesses that may be based on design flaws from the inception of an organization, such as the U.S. Postal Service and the Medicare program.
Growth and entrenchment of "technocracies" — i.e., specialized fiefdoms such as chief financial officers, chief budget officers, contracting offices, inspectors general and now chief human capital officers.
Some call for reversing the trend of fragmentation, while others propose ways of coping. A major problem is the loss of capacity of the Office of the President to enhance the president's ability to manage the federal government. In earlier years, an office within OMB would have provided high-quality management analysis as well as support for management improvements in many of the areas. For instance, such capacity might have improved the design of the new Homeland Security Department.
The first chapter analyzes the political context that fosters fragmentation. Grass-roots mobilization of citizens behind political causes has been replaced by a "proliferation of opportunities for individual access to government." This means that government officials, at least with respect to domestic programs, may possess less discretion than before.
Implementation of federal programs faces increased likelihood of litigation, investigations by the General Accounting Office, targeted congressional oversight and the need to observe increasing formalities of open meetings, administrative procedures and public access to information. Individuals now have a capacity to probe the innards of program operations to a degree that was previously unknown.
The second chapter shows how a growing disparity between demands and how resources hollowed out much of the executive branch, which has been "forced to rely on an ever-expanding army of contractors." The consequences for executive organization and management have been profound. It can be difficult to assure accountability when public functions are delegated to private organizations such as government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs). For example, the GSEs have used the appropriations process to keep their financial regulator deprived of the resources that government needs to examine the GSEs properly and protect taxpayers against the risks of management failures such as occurred recently at Freddie Mac.
The third chapter focuses on the trend to delegate much of the government's work to private contractors. The resulting management challenges can be immense. A major issue of concern is the disregard in practice of the principle that certain governmental activities must be performed
by agencies and officials, and cannot be delegated to non-governmental actors. The state is subject to a different body of law than that applicable to private individuals.
The cumulative effects of contracting can be debilitating. Salaries of contractor employees are not capped, and their work is increasingly more interesting than that performed in-house. Such differences can create incentives for the intelligence of government to migrate from the official workforce into the third-
party workforce. Over the long run, the information that government needs to control contractors may only be found within the contractors themselves.
The danger is compounded because of the divergence between the interests of contractors and those of the government and the limitations of rules governing those interests.
This raises the question: If we continue to blur the boundaries between the public and private workforces, is there danger that we may lose the
very qualities that we most value in each?
Another chapter looks at the emergence in government of specialized clusters of professionals who carry out narrow management or administrative functions. These clusters are called "technocracies." Technocracies are found in traditional support functions such as personnel, procurement, budget and finance units. The purpose of technocracy groups is to share information, ideas and practices within each specialty. They also have the ability to influence outcomes of specific laws or regulations affecting their specialty areas.
In part, technocracies represent the growing professionalism of parts of the federal service. They also represent a form of fragmentation — this time of the management capacity of departments and agencies. Thus, the establishment of chief financial officers, chief information officers and even inspectors general, all of whom must report to department secretaries, has led to the creation of fiefdoms that can seriously impede coordination and effective program implementation. The recent creation of chief human capital officers will buttress yet another fiefdom.
Instead of seeking comprehensive and integrated management reform, policy-makers increasingly rely on technocracies to drive reforms. The President's Management Agenda continues this pattern with its inattention to the need for integrating the strategic plans of the individual technocracies to improve agencywide performance.
The last chapter takes issue with the budget-driven and numbers-based approach to downsizing government that has reduced the size of the federal workforce without regard to the impact on program effectiveness. Good program redesign is needed before downsizing is contemplated to assure that an agency can maintain or increase its service levels while reducing the number of employees needed for some tasks. Only some agencies and programs can downsize without losing effectiveness.
The message is that the organization of government matters and that there are principles of executive organization and management that can make government departments, agencies and programs easier to manage.
Since Sept. 11, it has become especially important for agencies to show how to improve executive organization and management so that government indeed becomes manageable in its essential functions.
Edited excerpt from the introduction to "Making Government Manageable: Executive Organization and Management in the Twenty-First Century," by Thomas H. Stanton and Benjamin Ginsberg, Eds., Johns Hopkins University Press.
"Making Government Manageable" is based on a joint conference held by the National Academy of Public Administration's Standing Panel on Executive Organization and Management and Johns Hopkins University's Center for the Study of American Government. The individual chapters were written by Johns Hopkins professors Matthew Crenson and Benjamin Ginsberg and academy fellows Murray Comarow, Alan Dean, Dan Guttman, Dwight Ink, Ronald Moe, Sallyanne Payton, Beryl Radin, Thomas Stanton and Barbara Wamsley.