It is simply impossible for the American government to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century with the bureaucracy, regulations and systems of the 1880s.
Implementing policy effectively is ultimately as important as making the right policy. In national security we have an absolute crisis of ineffective and inefficient implementation which undermines even the most correct policies and risks the security of the country. In health, education and other areas we have cumbersome, inefficient, and ineffective bureaucracies which make our tax dollars less effective and the decision of representative government less capable. People expect results and not just excuses.
To get those results in the twenty-first century will require a profound transformation from a model of Bureaucratic Public Administration to a model of Entrepreneurial Public Management.
As Professor Philip Bobbitt of the University of Texas has noted: “Tomorrow's [nation] state will have as much in common with the twenty-first century multinational company as with the twentieth century [nation] state. It will outsource many functions to the private sector, rely less of regulation and more on market incentives and respond to ever-changing consumer demand.”
It is an objective fact that government today is incapable of moving at the speed of the Information age.
It is an objective fact that government today is incapable of running a lean, agile operation like the logistics supply chain system that has made Wal-Mart so successful or the recent IBM logistics supply chain innovations which IBM estimates now saves it over $3 billion a years while improving productivity and profits.
There is a practical reason government cannot function at the speed of the information age.
Modern government as we know it is an intellectual product of the civil service reform movement of the 1880s.
Think of the implications of that reality.
A movement that matured over 120 years ago was a movement developed in a period when male clerks used quill pens and dipped them into ink bottles.
The processes, checklists, and speed appropriate to a pre-telephone, pre-typewriter era of government bureaucracy are clearly hopelessly obsolete.
Simply imagine walking into a government office today and seeing a gas light, a quill pen, a bottle of ink for dipping the pen, a tall clerk’s desk, and a stool. The very image of the office would communicate how obsolete the office was. If you saw someone actually trying to run a government program in that office you would know instantly it was a hopeless task.
Yet the unseen mental assumptions of modern bureaucracy are fully as out of date and obsolete, fully as hopeless at keeping up with the modern world as that office would be.
Today we have a combination of information age and industrial age equipment in a government office being slowed to the pace of an agricultural age mentality of processes, checklists, limitations, and assumptions.
This obsolete, process-oriented system of bureaucracy is made even slower and more risk averse by the attitudes of the Inspectors General, the Congress, and the news media. These three groups are actually mutually reinforcing in limiting energy, entrepreneurship, and creativity.
The Inspectors General are products of a scandal and misdeed oriented mindset which would bankrupt any corporation. The Inspectors General communicate what government employees cannot do and what they cannot avoid. The emphasis is overwhelmingly on a petty dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s mentality which leads to good bookkeeping and slow, unimaginative, and expensive implementation.
There are no Inspectors General seeking to reward imagination, daring risks, aggressive leadership, over achievement.
Similarly, the members of Congress and their staffs are quick to hold hearings and issues press releases about mistakes in public administration but there are remarkably few efforts to identify what works and what should be streamlined and modernized.
Every hearing about a scandal reminds the civil service to keep its head down.
Similarly, the news media will uncover, exaggerate and put the spotlight on any potential scandal but it will do remarkably little to highlight, to praise, and to recognize outstanding breakthroughs in getting more done more quickly with fewer resources.
Finally, the very nature of the personnel system further leads to timidity and mediocrity. No amount of extra effort can be rewarded and no amount of incompetent but honest inaction seems punishable. The failure of the system to reinforce success and punish failure leads to a steady drift toward mediocrity and risk avoidance.
Newt Gingrich is a senior fellow at AEI. This document is an expansion on a theme introduced in Winning the Future, by Gingrich, published by Regnery Publishing in January 2005.