RAND Book Proposes Ways to Improve Government Performance

For Release

January 11, 2005

A new RAND Corporation book says the federal government could be more effective and efficient by organizing agencies on the basis of their missions and unique functions—and then developing structural improvements and policies best tailored to individual agency needs.

The report calls for changes in the way senior federal officials are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate, and the way other employees are hired, paid, and given performance incentives. It also calls on individual federal agencies to tailor their organizational structures, policies, and leadership development programs to individual agency needs.

Addressing some of the most urgent problems facing the U.S. government, the new book analyzes chronic government problems: structures that don’t match missions, broken systems for finding and grooming leaders, and incentives that aren’t driven by performance.

“Fundamental reorganization of the federal government is urgently needed to improve its capacity for coherent design and efficient implementation of public policy,” according to the RAND book, titled “High-Performance Government: Structures, Leadership, Incentives.”

“The government leadership crisis requires immediate changes in the entry process for top leaders and the long-term development of a highly-skilled federal management corps,” the book says. “The federal workforce must be reshaped and the systems that support it must be rooted in new personnel management principles that ensure much higher levels of government performance.”

The book is a collection of essays by RAND researchers that provide an outline for government reforms and improved management based on lessons learned from past government successes. Essays call for reforms in the national security system, foreign aid, counterterrorism efforts, the welfare system, and public-private partnerships. The report also advocates performance-driven schools.

The essays say that:

  • Federal agencies should be organized and streamlined according to the requirements of their missions, with each task and goal tailored to serve an agency’s mission. Agencies should be comprised of subunits grouped together to promote coordination, limit redundancies, increase accountability, and spark other improvements.
  • The process under which the president nominates and the Senate confirms senior federal officials needs to be streamlined, accelerated and made less costly to better identify and attract the best candidates. A senior group of advisors from the executive and legislative branches should provide leadership and guidance throughout each stage of the presidential appointment process. This group should help develop and implement improvements, monitor progress and measure results.
  • The federal government needs to do a better job of hiring employees and developing leaders. The government should simplify and shorten the employee hiring processes, support career exchanges, fund leadership research and training, and improve career education and development programs. An objective interagency team is needed to diagnose problems with the hiring system by identifying the requirements of the different federal positions, developing benchmarks for success and implementing solutions. Following the lead of private industry, the federal government should track workforce competency requirements, individual employee progress, and participation in development programs. Developing future leaders should involve the public, for-profit, nonprofit, and educational sectors.
  • Just as governmental structures and positions must be formed to accomplish specific missions, the federal government needs to establish compensation and reward systems to help recruit and retain good government workers. Salary levels should be tied to performance goals, which in turn are based on the organization’s mission. Government should set salaries higher than that of comparable private sector positions to attract and retain federal employees. Incentives to federal employees can result in better performance.

Authors of the essays contend that government reform is a long-term phased process, requiring continuous oversight and flexibility. The authors reject a “one size fits all” template of reforms that can be applied to all federal agencies.

The book is a product of the Volcker Initiative for Public Service, a government reform project funded by a $600,000 gift from former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul A. Volcker to the Pardee RAND Graduate School (PRGS) in 2003. Volcker also headed the National Commission on the Public Service, commonly referred to as the Volcker Commission, which issued two reports recommending sweeping government reforms. The new book expands on the second set of Volcker Commission recommendations made in 2003.

The Volcker Initiative is designed as a three-year effort. It is also being supported by a $200,000 gift from Eugene Rosenfeld, a member of the PRGS Board of Governors.

The book was edited by PRGS Dean Robert Klitgaard and PRGS Visiting Professor Paul C. Light, who is based at New York University and the Brookings Institution.

Authors of the essays in the book are Beth Asch, Frank Camm, Lynn E. Davis, John Dumond, Rick Eden, Laura Hamilton, Robert Lempert, Susan M. Gates, Jacob Klerman, Steven W. Popper, Al Robbert and Gregory Treverton, all of RAND.

“Research can make a difference as we address fundamental issues of governance,” Klitgaard said. “We need evidence-based reforms, building on case studies of best practices and crosscutting quantitative analysis. This book tries to show the way.”

“The tug of war between competing interests in Congress, business, and the Civil Service often paralyzes government structures, preventing them from effectively and efficiently accomplishing their tasks,” Light said. “The result is a government that is providing less and less services to American taxpayers at a higher cost.”

Founded in 1970 as one of America’s original eight graduate programs in public policy and the only one based at a think tank, the Pardee RAND Graduate School has awarded more doctorates in policy analysis than any other institution. The interdisciplinary doctorate is designed to train creative thinkers to play important roles in solving major problems facing the nation and the world. Rigorous courses all operate as seminars, and students get the opportunity to work alongside top RAND researchers on a broad range of projects as part of their on-the-job training.

Printed copies of “High-Performance Government: Structure, Leadership, and Incentives”, (ISBN: 0-8330-3740-4 (paperback), 0-8330-3662-9 (hardbound)) can be ordered from RAND’s Distribution Services (order@rand.org or call toll-free in the United States 1-877-584-8642).

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