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Goldsmith’s Five Ideas For Reinventing Government

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Stephen Goldsmith is a Professor and the Director of the Innovations in Government Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Mr. Goldsmith previously served as the Mayor of Indianapolis and Deputy Mayor New York City.

Recently Goldsmith testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform about improving government efficiency and performance.

Some highlights from Goldsmith’s testimony:

Government needs to produce solutions, not activities, through outcome-oriented governance and a better balance of accountability and discretion in civil service.

For 100 years now, we have developed civil service, oversight and procurement systems to limit corruption and abuses of discretion by limiting discretion itself. Narrow job descriptions, layers of outdated oversight, and hyper-technical and protracted procurement processes have produced a government that manufactures widgets designed for a single application, while entangling their production in red tape for reasons that virtually no one can remember. 

Almost inadvertently, bureaucrats remain preoccupied with tracking inputs and activities while spending too little time producing results.

We have a government built on hierarchies that dramatically increase expenses while simultaneously suffocating continuous improvement. Reorganization needs to unlock ideas from those who do the work, rewarding their suggestions and implementing them.

Change the structures of government to incent results.

A government that often hires by list, not skill, that promotes irrespective of managerial ability, and that almost never penalizes or terminates bad performers and rarely rewards excellence cannot expect excellence. 

Good agency performers need more autonomy. For example, allowing agencies and their subdivisions to retain part of any efficiency they generate changes conduct. 

Though difficult, we need to begin to identify ways, free of favoritism, that reward employees who excel and quickly, fairly and firmly discipline those who take advantage of the public with wasteful ways.

Realign the public/private relationship.

Competition forces all of us to be better. This concept applies equally to bureaucracies unchallenged by competition and long-term incumbent vendors. Competition pushes those involved to improve.  Allowing public-private partnerships and competition translates into better services and reinvigorates public workers. A recent example came when Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel had city employees compete against private companies to see who could pick up recycling more efficiently.

Data analytics and open source transparency will reveal root causes and save money.

Data analytics centers are now evolving into one of the most powerful drivers of public innovation, allowing predictive problem solving to be delivered to the field through decision support tools. Several governors and mayors are now actively involved in determining how to set up special initiatives dedicated to driving reforms through digital analytics. These data-driven efforts help officials target services, allowing them to both anticipate problems such as weather emergencies, and improve services like child welfare outcomes.

Government needs to operate horizontally rather than vertically.

Big governments produce inefficiency and restrict problem solving because they are organized hierarchically, with too many layers … increasingly prevents us from designing effective solutions to public problems. 

We need horizontal government not just in how we react to citizens but also in how agencies relate to each other. Most government officials now talk about shared services—the consolidation of functions across governments or government agencies—but few have done it broadly and correctly. he federal government obviously is a massive operation. Yet every single dollar spent by every single employee needs to drive maximum value. That requires structural and cultural changes. It can be done in Washington, but not without new rules, new approaches and a new definition of oversight. 

What do you think about Goldsmith’s ideas?

www.reinventinggov.org