Government's unending saga of management reform

The problem with President Trump's management agenda is not its particulars -- it's that we've been talking about the same changes for decades.

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Just a few short months ago, good government types were bemoaning the lack of "management agenda" for the new Trump administration.

Then came a flurry of activity that silenced those concerned: a White House meeting with leading private sector executives; a draft executive order on cybersecurity; expressions of support for the Modernizing Government Technology Act; a federal hiring freeze; the creation of a White House Office of American Innovation; the establishment of an American Technology Council; a call for plans, due Sept. 30, to reorganize executive departments and agencies; and the release of the President's FY 2018 budget (aka " The Skinny Budget"), with a section on management in the very front of the document.

That management chapter promises the development of "... the President's Management Agenda focused on achieving significant improvements in the effectiveness of its core management functions." Goals will be set that are critical "... to improving the Federal Government's effectiveness, efficiency, cybersecurity, and accountability."

That sounds like a full slate, but let's think about the management reform agendas (noting that they weren't always called such) over the last few decades: government reorganization; Program Planning and Budgeting; Reform '88; 1,000 points of light; Reinventing Government; and a Management Agenda for both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama (same name – somewhat different focus). One could easily go all the way back to a golden era in public administration and government reform – the Hoover Commissions of the Truman and Eisenhower administrations 70 years ago.

It's overkill to go all the way back to when President Donald Trump was a youngster. Let's go back only half-way, to when senior aide Jared Kushner was a baby. In September 1982, the Reagan administration unveiled a "major management reform" package that it said would eventually allow the president to run the government as efficiently as a private corporation. Called Reform '88, because it would take six years to implement, the initiative promised to concentrate on what have since become the "usual suspects":

  • Standard accounting and other administrative management systems;
  • Modernizing and integrating government computer systems;
  • Cutting federal paper work and internal agency regulations;
  • Shared services;
  • A government that acts in an efficient and businesslike manner;
  • Streamlining rule-bound and slow personnel and procurement operations;
  • Over payments, under payments, and improper payments;
  • Delinquent debts;
  • Excess government field offices and properties; and...

I could go on, but you get the idea. In spite of years of management reform efforts, little has changed. What company would still have basically the same management reform objectives for over 30 years and still be in business? 

So I hereby propose a deliberately terse Trump Management Agenda -- and it needs to come first. Before new White House Task Forces and Presidential Commissions. Before new executive orders and OMB directives. Before additional Hill hearings or legislation or Government Accountability Office reports. Before new staff offices are created and filled with change agents, thought leaders, visionaries, innovators, rock stars, heavy hitters, big thinkers or Silicon Valley transients.

Our need today is not for more agile, innovative, enabling leaders. It is not for transformative leadership. The future is about managing risks, expenses and sound customer service. It's about delivering and executing. It is about solid management, administration and execution.

For at least the last 35 years, we've been over-led and under-managed. What we need today is more and better management. President Trump, "JUST DO IT!"