September 20, 2010 at 10:33 pm #111425
My latest column on Governing.com looks at a memo from the earliest days of the federal Office of Management and Budget. Written by a 33 year old Deputy Under Secretary Fred Malek, the memo was intended “to highlight some of the major problems in managing the federal government.”
The memo is a gem. The depressing part how many of the challenges noted in a memo from 1970 still exist today.
Are we stuck or what? Consider Malek’s observations from 40 years ago:
Insight #1 – “Management considerations are often given insufficient attention when policies are being developed.” Still true today. The architects of policy in Congress tend to focus on the political features of a new program, as opposed to crafting something that is implementable.
Co-author Bill Eggers and I found that federal managers were still frustrated by this “design-free design” problem today. The Medicare Prescription Drug benefit’s disastrous early days can be chalked up to a design that didn’t give adequate attention to implementation issues.
Insight #2 – “Neglect of Less Visible Tasks” Malek notes that politicians tend to focus on the next new thing, and ignore the successful implementation of last year’s program. The result, says Malek, is “a tremendous lack of follow-through…”
Has anything changed here? Politicians have their picture taken at the bill signing ceremony, but they are nowhere to be found when the grunt work of implementation actually takes place.
Insight #3 – “Inability to Measure Results” Here, Malek argues that our tendency to ignore follow through is exacerbated by a lack of measurable results. In one sense, performance measurement has come a long way since 1970. But despite all the measuring and reporting, are we getting better results?
Insight #4 – “Poor working relationships with State and Local Governments.”
I think we can safely say this challenge endures.
Insight #5 – “Organization.” Malek here specifically points to the fact that bureaucracies spring up around individual pieces of legislation, and thus encourage a “silo” structure where numerous, uncoordinated federal stovepipes are serving, or attempting to serve, the same population.” True in 1970, true in 2010.
I stumbled upon the Malek memo thanks to an article by Jitinder Kohli and John Griffith of the Center for American Progress. As they put it: “Malek’s insights are far from groundbreaking. Indeed, the document’s power today is not its freshness, but its disheartening endurance.”
But should we be disheartened?
What do you think, GovLoopers? Are we running after a retreating horizon, no closer to good federal management today? Or have things actually gotten better, and we just don’t read about the successes in the press?
September 21, 2010 at 1:07 pm #111431
At least with the growth of the internet and its capability to inform the people, many people are more informed and working at holding the decision-makers accountable.
September 21, 2010 at 6:32 pm #111429
In Canada, Alberta to be specific, I think consultation with all stakeholders has improved markedly over my careet. I have seen much consultation with, and money going to, municipalities and the terms of federal funding and policy interference is negotiated, not predetermined We have national level deputy minister and minsiter’s conferences on a variety of issues.
On results, I think we have moved miles in terms of better understanding and communicating our intents for initiatives with business planning and cases that are common place . We still have work to do on measuring performance and being willing to admit that we did not make the bar.
Where we have not dealt with the problems you outline, it is because us bureaucrats have tried to second guess, or worse to direct, the political decision makers instead of giving them the best information and alternatives that we can and letting them make the decision. Most politicians I have met want to do the right thing. When they don’t have good comprehensive information and choices, it is hard for them to sort through the special interests and the ideology.
September 27, 2010 at 11:48 am #111427
Wow….scary…I was talking to a senior executive and he said the same about “Why IT projects failed.” They spent months writing a new paper about it…and results were same from 20 years ago
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