Two decades after the release of the book “Reinventing Government: How the Entrepreneurial Spirit is Transforming the Public Sector,” federal, county and city officials convened to discuss possible ripple effects of the book’s reconstructive theories.
For the third installment of their What’s Possible presentation series, the Hornets Policy and Politics Group of the Sacramento State Alumni Association hosted a panel discussion centered on reinventing government.
“Governments have a 19 percent approval rating and congress only 9, local governments are usually higher than that at 50 or 60 percent but still low particularly when compared to a reverence we have for the founding fathers,” said Rancho Cordova City Manager and featured guest speaker Ted Gaebler. Along with David Osborne, Gaebler co-authored “Reinventing Government,” which provided the framework for the panel’s focus on administrative changes to restore public trust and approval.
“Government’s reputation has been long lines at the DMV or lack of investment in technology as quick as the private sector,” he said. “Governments don’t have the same worries as business because there isn’t a natural weaning out process in government.”
John Mercer, who as a congressional staffer drafted the U.S. Government Performance and Results Act, focused on how performance-based budgeting can drive down costs while maintaining service levels. The history of funding based on “good intentions” needs to be linked to outcome performance measures to make sure the means are reaching the ends, Mercer said.
“Counties are a unique form of government, we have a wide range of responsibilities and are less nimble than cities making reinvention more challenging,” said Patrick Blacklock, Yolo County Administrator. Blacklock spoke of how his county has grown in size and now copes with several elected department heads who don’t report to the county CEO and thus aren’t beholden to policy direction set by the Board of Supervisors. This, along with many statutory restrctions, are at the crux of his county’s issues.
Benicia City Manager Brad Kilger said “these ideas are not earth-shattering.” He said we haven’t been able to get more cities to take up the reinventing mantra because of increased regulations which increase costs and the way cities are dealing with these regulations is “they seem to continue to go back to the trying and true ways of bureaucratic efforts.”
Governments must seek innovation to get things done despite regulations and without causing bureaucratic gridlock. Ted Gaebler holds a weekly session in Rancho Cordova where anyone can come in and bring ideas directly to him; he calls it the “New Ideas Office.” Brad Kilger pointed out that it is easiest to reinvent government in stable economic times and with an unstable economy regulation is seen as a protective measure. He said citizens today have become more vocal about the need for reinvention because of increased access to information through technology. The process of reinvention is not without risk but instead it acknowledges risk and relays information about the risk to the public.
“Communicate a whole lot,” said Blacklock. His work in Yolo County has contributed to implementing such innovative ideas as shared services under the Yolo County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), paperless record transfers from the District Attorney’s office to the Courthouse and Yolo County partnering with the Sacramento County Office of Education in efforts to reduce recidivism.
At the base line of the panel discussion was the need for future government action not only to reflect specific goals but to be receptive to innovation in search of those goals. The same actions should also ensure that performance measures be integrated as a management tool to analyze output and effectiveness of every level of the organization.