Tags: Jimmy Carter | Barack Obama | OPM | Ronald Reagan | Government Reform

Do Not Underestimate the Importance of Reform

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Thursday, 11 Dec 2014 11:48 AM Current | Bio | Archive

Jimmy Carter was elected president on his pledge to reform government bureaucracy. Unlike most politicians, he delivered with the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978.Yet, given the importance of this issue for him and his passion for policy micro-management, when he read the Act he conceded “this is really boring stuff, isn’t it”? Barack Obama must agree, just meeting with his top career executives, now five years into his administration.

Poor President Carter did not even have time to benefit from his reforms, leaving to his successor Ronald Reagan the good fortune of actually implementing them. No president or leading member of Congress has taken much of an interest in public administration ever since, except to eviscerate the good the two produced.

Two decades later, on Christmas Day 2010, a hijacker almost blew up an airliner, avoided only by his own stupidity, leading the nation’s top public administration expert, New York University Professor Paul Light, to lament:

"The systemic failures that led to the attempted bombing of Northwest Flight 253 are, sadly, all too familiar. Substitute the words “Christmas Day plot” for tainted meat, poisoned peppers, aircraft groundings, the Columbia shuttle accident, Hurricane Katrina, counterfeit Heparin, toxic toys, the banking collapse, Bernie Madoff or even Sept. 11, and the failure to put Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on the “no-fly” list becomes yet another indication that the federal government can no longer guarantee the faithful execution of our laws."

It's only gotten worse. The Obamacare kickoff and now the revelation that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) padded by almost a half million those who supposedly signed up for the program. Not to be outdone, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention misplaced vitals of smallpox, anthrax, and H5N1 for a decade.

The Department of Veterans Affairs made vets waited for months for treatment and then falsified the numbers; the Secret Service permitted an intruder to enter the interior rooms of the White House; Internal Revenue Service agents targeted opponents to delay tax-exemption approval; the Federal Protective Service brought a bomb into a federal building and left it for weeks — and on and on.

Light concludes, “If the next administration is just as indifferent to reforming government as recent ones have been the cascade of failure will continue.”

Perhaps not. Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson is set to become chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee when Republicans take control in January, 2015. While he was ranking member on its subcommittee overseeing government management in 2011, Johnson issued a report entitled “$1.4 Trillion in Savings” from administrative programs under the jurisdiction of his subcommittee alone that would revolutionize the Federal bureaucracy, saving trillions in the process.

Some of the proposals follow from earlier Reagan reforms such as cutting the Federal workforce by 10 percent, freezing its pay and limiting the generous retirement and health insurance programs. Some are new, such as ending so-called locality pay — when bureaucrats are already overpaid compared to the private sector — and using a more accurate and less generous measure for cost-of-living adjustments in the retirement system.

Focusing on pay and retirement are important for more than just saving money. Retirement may in fact be the greatest obstacle to government reform. Federal retirement is so generous that almost no one wants to leave government service no matter how much they hate their jobs and take it out on their work. Federal quit rates are fractions of those in the private sector. More mobility would increase employee satisfaction and work performance.

Johnson proposed combining the major administrative appeals processes and consolidating them at the U.S. Office of Personal Management (OPM). This would be most effective if these could be integrated into a single merit system rather than the present separate ones with competing merit, labor grievance, and discrimination appeals.

Johnson even proposed eliminating collective bargaining, viewing it as being entirely inappropriate for a government workforce — which even pro-union President Franklin Roosevelt considered a conflict of interest.

Because almost all senior executives at many agencies today are rated at the highest outstanding level, spreading supposed good performance bonuses to all, Johnson proposed to freeze Senior Executive Service bonuses for years. It would be better to freeze bonuses until an agency can demonstrate to OPM that it has a sound performance appraisal system distinguishing between performance levels. Similar upgrading and pay based upon that performance should then extend to managers, then to the whole workforce.

Such a reform should appeal the Republican House of Representatives and Johnson might even be able to win interest in the Senate by showing colleagues how such public sector labor reforms were adopted in his blue home state, receiving public approval, also resulting in increased government efficiency.

Bureaucracy reform may be boring but voters seem to like it.

Donald Devine is senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies, the author of "America’s Way Back: Reconciling Freedom, Tradition and Constitution," and was Ronald Reagan’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during his first term. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
 
 



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DonaldDevine
Bureaucracy reform may be boring but voters seem to like it.
Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama, OPM, Ronald Reagan, Government Reform
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2014-48-11
Thursday, 11 Dec 2014 11:48 AM
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