Remarks Prepared for Delivery Vice President Al Gore Marver H. Bernstein Symposium on Governmental Reform Georgetown University Tuesday, March 28, 1994
During the 1960s, when Marver Bernstein was teaching at Princeton, one of my predecessors, Hubert Humphrey, came to speak. In those days, of course, rage over the Vietnam War dominated the campus. Professor Bernstein was afraid that campus radicals would disrupt the speech, so he opened negotiations with Students for a Democratic Society -- one of the most militant anti-war groups.
The dissidents' view of participatory democracy was essentially that nobody should be in charge.
After a series of long meetings in which everyone said their piece but no decision could be made, Marver -- I quote one of his friends -- "looked out his office window at the plaza and bubbling fountain down below and said wistfully, "When I was a student at Wisconsin, I was an activist, too. But we were organized."
Marver Bernstein was not only interested in organization. He studied it in the organized way that characterized his life. Today, in this inaugural lecture in the memory of Professor Bernstein, I am reminded of his 1958 book, "The Job of the Federal Executive," which was based on a roundtable discussion series held at the Brookings Institution. What's interesting about Professor Bernstein's book -- even though it was written 36 years ago -- is how recognizable some of his descriptions of the job of the federal executive are today, whether it is the difficulties facing executives that move from business to government; the role of Congress in agency management; or the importance of serving the public and being accountable for one's actions.
But there have been significant changes in what the federal executive does and how he or she does it. Today, I'd like to discuss why and how these changes came about. Two relatively recent developments have dramatically shifted the premises on which traditional public and private sector management theory has been based: (1) a new understanding of how to best employ human capacity and (2) the new role of information technology in transforming the manager's job.
First, let me talk about the shift in our understanding of human capacity. In the early 1900s, Frederick Taylor -- the father of work measurement -- advocated the use of hierarchies and the specialization of functions as the path to high productivity and efficiency. Similarly, organizational theorist Chester Barnard defined the role of the executive in the 1930s as being the central coordinator of an organization.
Yet, in today's environment these approaches limit productivity rather than promote it. Today, we recognize that Taylor's theories about "scientific management" are no longer applicable in the information age, and that Chester Barnard's definition of the role of the executive is likewise outdated.
Were they wrong -- the way alchemists were wrong to think lead could be turned into gold? No; in fact, you could argue they were right for their time.
In the 1930s, it would have been difficult for executives -- whether President Franklin Roosevelt, or the CEO of General Motors -- to influence what was going on in their organizations without a hierarchical approach.
The old hierarchies were based in part on a sharp division between those who work with their heads and those who work with their muscles. But before very long, the best managers realized that the most valuable asset in their organizations was the unused brain power and creativity of the men and women who were being asked only to use their muscles.
So, today, we have developed different ideas about human capacity.
But we have discovered that even when people work with their hands, individuals within organizations are capable of producing more than had been previously thought possible.
I remember at a meeting last November, a big man got up to speak. He was a line worker at Corning Glass, named Dick Allen. In the old days, he told me, when something went wrong with his machine, two engineers would come onto the floor to look at it. He knew they were engineers for two reasons. First, they wore ties. Second, they never talked to him. A lot of times he knew what was wrong. "I can remember," he said, "going home nearly every evening -- or morning, depending what shift I was on -- and describing to my wife all the things that were wrong with Corning and all of my brilliant ideas of how to fix it. But I had no way at the factory to deliver those ideas." The culture of the times dictated that he keep his thoughts to himself and let the "men with ties" work it out.
Then Corning changed its philosophy. Now the engineers still come onto the floor. But the first thing they do is ask Dick Allen what's wrong. They've found out that if anyone knows, it's likely to be him. And they're right. But, this requires an entirely new model of leadership that is based on the notion that workers can make major, positive contributions to understanding the workplace and how to enhance productivity.
The information age has brought about a second development that has caused revolutionary changes in management theory. Information technology gives the new manager a set of tools that did not exist in 1958 when Professor Bernstein penned his observations. Computers, and their interconnection through telecommunications, have made possible flatter organizations, wider spans of control, and quicker information sharing.
It is now possible for a President -- whether of a company or a country -- to decentralize, yet keep field operations accountable for results. It is this concept -- accountability -- that links the federal manager of the Eisenhower era with the federal manager of the Clinton era. They are both accountable -- to the law, to the Congress, to the President, and to the public. But the information age demands that the new federal manager innovate. And information technology allows this to be done without sacrificing accountability.
These two new developments have combined to transform the job of the federal executive. It is now possible to transform the nature of management in the the Federal Government. What is the new job of the federal executive? First, in the old way of doing things, federal executives were expected to know best, and they created special offices at the top of their organizational chart to manage change and create innovation alone. In the new way, federal executives need to involve all employees in developing a clear vision and a shared sense of mission.
In this Administration, we want managers and employees to work together to paint a clear vision and articulate a compelling mission. A shared mission -- supplemented with clearly understood goals and shared values upon which anyone in the organization can base a decision -- results in the empowerment of all employees -- managers as well as workers -- to innovate and ensure a high level of performance.
It ensures that everyone "buys into" the vision and is part of the process for creating it so goals can be developed together. I've seen this in action.
A couple of weeks ago I visited the Department of Veterans Affairs. I met Joe Thompson, the New York Regional Office Director. He helped create a vision for his staff.
He took his benefit determination staff to nearby veterans' hospitals and let them meet actual customers. As a team, they developed a vision of how they wanted to change the process from a 23-step sequential process to a set of small teams serving specific beneficiaries. This new eight-step process has resulted in savings of 20 percent in processing costs and has cut waiting time for a veteran who wants to see a claims counselor from 30 minutes to three minutes.
Second, in the old way, federal executives were expected to keep staff working within organizational boundaries. In the new way, federal executives will need to help staff cross boundaries to work effectively with other organizations. The federal executive of the Eisenhower era found, according to Professor Bernstein, that "much of his work is designed to protect his agency and the integrity of its programs." This can no longer be seen as the path to success. As organizational theorists Gifford and Elizabeth Pinchot have observed, teamwork is now the hallmark of success. "Bureaucracy keeps teams isolated, focused on their task from above." In intelligent organizations, teams and their members must reach out through voluntary collaboration to create a more integrated organization. This Administration is committed to doing just that. For example, the fiscal year 1995 budget creates a government wide approach to job training, a cross-agency attack on homelessness, and an innovative approach to ecosystem management.
Third. In the old way, federal executives were expected to circumscribe discretion with rules because employees could not be trusted.
In the new way, federal executives must empower their employees to achieve the goals of the organization, within statutory constraints and the agreed upon vision of the organization.
Recently, I had the privilege of introducing a woman named Joan Hyatt to the President. She and some of the field staff at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proposed cutting its 400-page field manual to 93 pages. This will allow its workplace inspectors to spend more of their time assuring American workplaces are safe and less of their time doing paperwork. OSHA found -- like many of America's most successful corporations have found -- that those closest to the problem are often in the best position to make dramatic improvements.
Fourth. In the old way, federal executives were expected to protect and enlarge their operations and to satisfy higher levels of management.
In the new way, federal executives will need to work to satisfy their customers.
In the past, federal executives were presumed to know what the citizen wanted. The idea of a customer survey would have seemed ridiculous. Moreover, if you saw one customer you could safely assume you'd seen them all. Rules were standardized to ensure uniformity and equality. This rigid approach was nominally intended to provide quality service, but it did not because it failed to respond to customers' evolving needs.
Last September, President Clinton signed a customer service executive order that creates an entirely new relationship between the Federal Government and it's customers. It calls on agencies to set and publicly post standards so people know what they should expect.
For example the Miami Customs Service Office has set standards for clearing shipments into the United States. It made major shippers, like American Airlines, partners in its enforcement strategy. It showed shippers how to conduct self-enforcement. Customs now focuses on high risk targets and spot checks others. As a result, passengers are no longer inconvenienced by delays and cargo moves quickly through the port. ###
Fifth. In the old way, federal executives were expected to communicate one level up and one level down. In the new way, federal executives will need to communicate through every layer in their agencies.
As organizations added layers and work became more specialized, the old communications channels became ineffective. Executives became disconnected from front line workers. Craziness crept into the system -- like military specifications for chocolate chip cookies at the Department of Defense, or a 23-step process for determining a veterans' eligibility for benefits -- and the executives seemed powerless to establish a focus on the mission.
In the new way, executives will need to communicate directly to front line employees to find out what they are really doing, broadcast clear vision statements throughout the organization, and accept responsibility for maintaining a high level of awareness -- on the part of every employee -- of the vision, the goals and values upon which the organization is based.
Sixth. In the old way, federal executives were expected to tell their subordinates what the executive needed. In the new way, the federal executive will need to ask subordinates what they need to get their job done. How do we change things? One way is to do more of what Secretary of Education Dick Riley is doing. He hands out "reinvention permission slips" to all of his employees. It says, in part, "Ask yourself: (1) is it good for my customers? (2) is it legal and ethical? (3) is it something I am willing to be accountable for?... If so, don't ask permission. You already have it. Just do it!" Similarly, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Dan Beard has given his managers "forgiveness coupons" to encourage them to take risks -- and redeem them if necessary. These slips and coupons may smack of gimmickry. But when they come from the top they carry a powerful message.
Seventh. In the old way, federal executives were expected to use hierarchical arrangements, with checks and controls over every input, elaborate reporting mechanisms, and extensive use of rules and regulations. In the new way, federal executives will be expected to concentrate on performance and carefully measure results -- output, not input.
Focusing on process and conformity may once have made sense, but no longer. It built an ever-increasing overhead in paperwork, redundant reporting and immersion in checking details that slowed performance and diverted professionals from the intent of the law.
President Clinton and I believe in order to succeed we must clearly articulate our intent and will continue to encourage flexibility when it comes to how our goals are achieved.
For example, recently the President and five agency heads signed performance agreements. The agreements lay out, in written form, a publicly available vision of the agencies' goals and mission.
We believe that the best way for the federal executive to fulfill the traditional role of implementing the will of the President is to share those expectations explicitly with every single employee in the organization.
But, in order to perform their role successfully, federal executives must surmount two major hurdles. First is cynicism -- specifically a belief that this change is not real. I know that there are some managers out there who think to themselves, "This too shall pass." But the movement to reinvent government is grounded in big changes that are remaking all sectors of the economy.
If federal executives let cynicism stand in the way of change, they will face more and more hostility from an ever more cynical public.
Second is culture. Many federal employees find security in the existing work culture. It has set forth the status and reward structure to which they have long since accomodated themselves. This structure limits individual accountability and protects against change.
Because this existing culture no longer serves the public interest our challenge is to create work environments that: (1) promote and reward innovation, (2) preserve accountability and respect for the law, (3) put customers first, and (4) provide employees with a feeling of security, recognition, and personal accomplishment.
And so, today, I offer this challenge to federal executives in this room and throughout the workforce. This Administration supports the changes you have asked for. But we can't achieve it simply by making a report.
It can only be done by individuals. We are relying on you to lead this charge. My report to the President last fall is a blueprint for change. But it is just a beginning. Over time, old ways of thinking will fade and will be replaced by a new culture that promotes innovation and quality. A new face of government will appear -- of leaders with vision, of employees newly empowered, and newly motivated, and of customers newly satisfied. This new vision of a reformed national government, however, will lie fallow without the federal executive also seeing this as his or her own personal vision. Professor Bernstein, in his day, tried to help federal executives see their role in the executive branch. Today I see that as my challenge -- to help federal executives make this new vision theirs.
Just yesterday I returned to the Pentagon to help the Secretary of Defense celebrate some heroes of reinvention. I met Wilett Bunton, a Defense Department employee who told me last summer how entangled in red tape the federal travel system is. Wilett gave me a new insight into perhaps the most important job of a federal executive. She said that, because of the reinvention efforts underway, including changes in the travel system, "We're not the same people we were six months ago." The new job of a federal executive is to make federal employees believe, "We're not the same people we were six months ago" and to make the public believe we're not the same government we were either.