Despite tottering like a third-world country on the edge of default, the nation reached a deficit agreement in the nick of time. But our nation still faces a large – and growing – long-term fiscal imbalance driven by an aging population, which will dramatically increase health care and retirement costs. National Journal pundit, Charlie Cook, described both parties and both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue as ”dysfunctional”, the stakes as “high”, the performance “utterly disappointing” and the agreement reached as “really…a defeat in terms of what needs to be done”.
The nation certainly faces other challenges: the continuing war on terror, increasing economic competition from emerging world powers like China and India, rising energy costs, environmental concerns, and other new and unknown problems and threats. Any one of the challenges would be a large enough agenda for a President and Congress. Their convergence creates an atmosphere of unparalleled complication for government management.
Facing these challenges will require a “changed” government, a 21st-century government transformed to operate on demand. Eighty percent of people in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll described themselves as either “angry” or “dissatisfied” with the way Washington works – the highest that number has been in nearly 20 years. With confidence in government at an historic low, the time for action is now.
What characteristics would a transformed “21st-century government have? Although the outline of such a government is becoming clearer, the literature has yet to describe a real model or even its key characteristics. Transforming American Governance: Rebooting the Public Square is designed to help public management practitioners, thought leaders, theorists, and researchers to ask the right questions as we move forward in this uncharted territory. The book, just out from M.E. Sharpe, was edited by Terry Buss, Dwight Ink, and yours truly. We have assembled a prominent cast of experts to envision the future of government and governance on a broad scale, covering social policy, managing and regulating the economy, federalism and the states, and the new international order.
Our experts have come at this issue from different perspectives. Our contributors view the question from the perspective of public administration theory and the administrative state. They discuss it within the framework of such current policy challenges as the nation’s fiscal crisis and our ongoing war on terrorism. They debate it as it affects state and local governance and ponder the question, “Whither American Federalism?” They speculate about exactly how government will respond, while some assert that the answers already exist in the past – or current and emerging – changes and reform models. And they ponder the future – as a new Millennial generation enters public service, powerful 2.0 social networking, collaborative technologies become more prevalent, and new models of citizen engagement, and even co-production, change the very nature of government itself and/or government management.
These trends will dramatically affect what it is like to work in the public sector. New forms of coordination and control will evolve. Governments will place a premium on the skills of orchestration and facilitation and the ability to recognize the credibility and authority of sources of policy insights and advice outside the formal structures of the public sector. New accountability methods will be developed to match the radically dispersed and collaborative nature of public purpose work. Governments will need to make their own workplaces flatter, more connected, and less hierarchical, more in tune with the values and behavior of the talented people that need to be attracted to public service.