Paul Light scores the Bush reform agenda

FCW: You criticize many past government reform agendas as fads. How do you rate the Bush administration’s efforts?
LIGHT: Overall, I don’t think the Bush administration has worked the right issues in terms of government reform. I’d start at the top with the number of political appointees. It’s demoralizing to federal employees to have their work micromanaged by 20-somethings who have nothing better to do than get into the fine details of frontline activities on behalf of certain customers. Take a look at the Federal Aviation Administration, which has had recent meltdowns with Southwest Airlines and other airlines. Airlines are customers of FAA. So are airline passengers. So are air traffic controllers. So are vacation fliers and frequent fliers and airplane manufacturers. At the end of the day, elections are about which customer you’re going to pay attention to. The Bush administration has paid attention to industry as the customer.

There’s some good reason to criticize the administration for using the customer language to describe a preference for a particular customer.

I’m not saying that Democrats would be better at this. I think the Bush administration has been astute in picking its customers and then driving that down through the bureaucracy. It’s had effects on the actual performance of government in situations like accelerated drug approval, where industry has been favored.

I think the Bush management agenda will be rated a general failure in the pantheon of management agendas of the past 50 years. There are some pieces of the management agenda that reflect useful instincts, like the effort to measure performance. But they measure performance through a partisan lens. They have a Performance Assessment Rating Tool.

However, it’s quite difficult to figure out what influences the judgment about whether one program is working and another is not. What’s interesting is that many of the Democratic programs enacted over the years seem to get failing ratings, while Republican programs get stellar ratings. 

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