Joe’s Journal: On Government Programs and Performance

“Governments have become powerless against the onslaught of special-interest groups, have, indeed, become powerless to govern — to make decisions and to enforce them. The new tasks — protection of the environment, stamping out private armies and international terrorism, making arms control effective — all will require more rather than less government. But they will require a different form of government. Government has to regain a modicum of performance capacity. It has to be turned around. To turn around any institution — whether a business, a labor union, a university, a hospital, or a government — always requires the same three steps:

  1. Abandonment of the things that do not work, the things that have never worked, the things that have outlived their usefulness and their capacity to contribute.
  2. Concentration on the things that do work, the things that produce results, the things that improve the organization’s ability to perform.
  3. Analysis of the half-successes, the half-failures.

A turnaround requires abandoning whatever does not perform and doing more of what does perform.”

— Peter F. Drucker

I remember this passage well. It does indicate things that only government can do. Only government can take on protection of the environment; it goes beyond any one individual or company and is global in scope. Only government in cooperation with other governments can take care of the problem of terrorism. Only governments can make treaties banning or controlling nuclear weapons. In addition there are a number of other things government must do like administer justice, control the currency and maintain interstate commerce. But what Peter Drucker is talking about here are services that government performs that can also be performed by a social or private sector organization. Services like distribution of maps by the geological service. Many of these maps are available at Google. But there are special purpose maps that Google would never prepare because they’re not commercially viable. Government should think through whether even these maps can be provided in some other way.

[EXPAND More]Then he discusses Veteran’s Administration (VA) hospitals. I’ve had my eye on this issue for a long time because VA hospitals are often located either around very strong hospitals in the center of a city or they’re located in very remote locations making them hard to get to. Of course, there are great needs for the special-purpose veteran hospital to take care of wounded soldiers and to deal with things like prosthetic limbs and other sorts of mandatory care. But there are others whose activities should be merged with private hospitals, simply abandoned or whose services can be provided on an out-patient basis. This kind of care would still be paid for by the Veteran’s Administration, but would be administered by private organizations.

Then there are government activities that are half-successes and half-failures. They should be evaluated with a critical eye. In all cases the provision of government services should be subjected to the kind of objectives and measures that for-profit and not-for-profit social sector institutions subject themselves to – especially measures that assess performance against mission. A lot of these new programs ought to be subjected to sunset provisions whereby the agency passes out of existence after a certain preset period of time. Without sunset provisions you have the problem of special-interest groups forming around the mission and lobbying for their continuance. That is a real problem.

One of the massive growth areas is lobbying activities. Of course, to a certain extent lobbyists are necessary to make their points of view known to legislators, but on the other hand it is increasingly clear that lobbyists are most effective in getting their way, and this absorbs more and more creative resources of the economy, resources that could be productively employed elsewhere.

So, we have these special-interest groups developing and we have to figure out how to abandon unnecessary programs. Those without sunset provisions ought to be subjected to some kind of a periodic review, and only if they’re proven effective and necessary should they continue.

— Joe Maciariello[/EXPAND]