Another View: Who's 'proud to be'?

Mark Forman

Many agencies have achieved their 'Proud to be' targets under the President's Management Agenda. The time has come to mark not only the progress government employees have made, but also their achievements on the PMA.

While OMB directors are routinely faulted for too little focus on management, Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. has embraced management reform. Under the leadership he provided (with the help of Bob O'Neill and Jonathan Breul), the PMA has become the most significant government reform of our lifetime. Its five elements address the core issues that determine the quality of an organization: people, IT, financial management, the source of manpower and measuring results.

By 2002, progress was evident. Agencies had been working on transformation plans and many were being implemented. Many career employees who had been criticized for requesting change were being praised for their energy and contribution to making the government work better.

Several very senior career or political executives were removed from their jobs for trying to cover up or ignore needed changes. Still, the PMA was a very top-down approach to reform and pockets of resistance remained in critical agencies, including several that became part of the Homeland Security Department.

Clay Johnson's appointment as OMB's deputy director for management in 2003 enabled another leap forward. Johnson reasoned that agency workers must feel greater ownership of the management reform if the effort is to be self-sustaining, that personal pride in one's work is a strong motivator in any organization, government or commercial.

Johnson bucked the long-standing White House tradition of top-down directives. Instead, he asked agencies how much progress they would be proud to have made on the PMA by July 2004.

Limited tools are available to government reformers. The really tough problems are the result of overgrown internal agency hierarchies and cross-agency redundancies that have arisen over the last few decades. Rarely are they ethical problems.

Most government employees are trying to do their jobs in an organization built for a different era. Since line managers don't have the authority to fix tough problems, they often must be resolved by direct guidance from a department secretary, the White House or Congress. Having been on the staff of both the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee and the White House, I can tell you that there is as much frustration about this at the top as in the lowest levels of the bureaucracy.

The 'Proud to be' concept is a different approach to implementing major government reforms. It takes advantage of government workers' high educational level and their motivation to succeed.
Many government workers joined ad hoc groups to develop or share ways to work around bureaucratic constraints. These employees were totally committed to their work but were chastised for forcing the bureaucracy to address long-standing problems. The 'Proud to be' approach asked workers to identify what level of progress they would be proud of accomplishing by July 2004. Many have achieved those goals.

Clearly a government that celebrates achieving better results is good for America. The top-down approach to reform remains, but the PMA has become a framework for change from within.
Congratulations to you who have spent years trying to fix government and are documenting your success with a 'green' score.

Mark Forman, former Office of Management and Budget administrator for e-government and IT, is executive vice president at Cassatt Corp. of Menlo Park, Calif.


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