Ronald Reagan picture

Message on the Management of the United States Government

February 18, 1988

I am proud to report on the continued success of my Administration's efforts to better manage the Federal Government. Keeping the machinery of government well oiled and up-to-date is a difficult and often frustrating task, but it is absolutely essential if the American people are to have the quality of Federal services they deserve.

Historians and scholars often speak of "the American experiment." They are dead right: that is exactly what we are. We are an experiment to prove that men and women are not only capable of governing themselves, but that free, democratic institutions are superior to any other. Our people have every right to expect that their National Government perform its appointed tasks in a timely, efficient, and courteous fashion.

When I assumed office, I realized there were many tasks the Federal Government was not performing as well as it might. I saw too many examples of government inefficiency that tended to produce excessive costs, inadequate service, or both. To correct these defects, I initiated a government-wide management improvement strategy that I called "Reform '88."

Our first step was to ask one of the classic questions of good management: Should we be performing a particular task at all? One of the root causes of waste and inefficiency at the Federal level is that the Federal Government has taken on responsibilities that lie outside its proper sphere of action. Accordingly, wherever appropriate, we eliminated Federal regulatory programs and tried to terminate other programs that are unnecessary or duplicative of private sector activities. In other eases we returned Federal programs to the States or to the private sector to operate. Administrative overhead was reduced and cost-effectiveness enhanced by consolidating many Federal programs into block grants and turning them over to the States. Similar gains were realized by selling Government-owned enterprises like Conrail to private bidders. Further gains can be made by increased use of private sector ancillary and support services for activities where government plays a continuing role. In other areas, the Federal Government can scale back operations and reduce barriers to competition, in order to encourage private alternatives.

Second, we launched an all-out campaign against fraud, waste, and abuse at the Federal level. We expanded the role of our agency Inspectors General and made greater use of oversight mechanisms such as internal controls. Over the past 7 years, we have gone after the unscrupulous contractors who bilk the Pentagon, the doctors who overcharge the Medicaid program, the welfare chiselers who collect benefits to which they have no right, the embezzlers who line their pockets with the taxpayers' money, and the deadbeats who evade taxes or will not repay Federal loans. Individuals and corporations have been prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for cheating the government, and the number of abuses has been substantially curtailed. As a result, billions of dollars have either been saved or put to better use by Federal agencies.

Third, we have worked to improve individual agency operations by managing the agencies better and making their resources go further. Through intensive management review of agency programs, implementation of the recommendations made by the President's Private Sector Survey on Cost Control, and the budget review, we homed in on unique agency problems and assisted their managers in solving them. No major agency was exempt from this effort.

Fourth, for the first time in history, we developed and are implementing government-wide management systems to collect and analyze information concerning finances, personnel, and other administrative responsibilities. The Federal Government now has uniform accounting systems that will soon be used by every Executive branch agency. The government's credit policies and loan programs are likewise being carried out in a uniform manner-with the result that these credit programs are now being operated in a manner comparable with practices in the private sector. In the same way, our practices for handling cash receipts and disbursements have been improved, and new technology has been applied to improve the timeliness of transactions and reduce the potential for abuse. Information on the work performed by government employees is now standardized and collected uniformly, as are details on government property and procurement.

Lastly, and most importantly, we are making Federal agencies more productive. I realize that productivity, efficiency, and quality control are terms more often associated with private, profit-making enterprises than with government. Yet, I have long believed that they should apply to government as well. We owe our "customers"the American people—the highest standards of service. Major strides have been made in improving the timeliness and efficiency of Federal Government operations. For example, a new automated passport system has enabled the State Department to issue passports in about half the time it used to take—and the Department has done this at a time when passport applications have increased by 20 percent. The Commerce Department is using a similar system to speed the issuance of export licenses. The Food and Drug Administration has reduced the time it takes to test and approve new medical devices by about onethird—without cutting corners on safety. The Federal Aviation Administration is implementing new ways to speed passenger planes in and out of airports. The Internal Revenue Service is accelerating the processing of tax returns. And these are just a few of our many accomplishments.

Although we have achieved much already, not every initiative we have begun will be completed before the end of this Administration. Some additional implementing work will remain, especially in completing systems for managing government operations and in planning for the 21st century. Nevertheless, our work to date will leave a firm foundation on which future Administrations can build. This is the "management legacy" that my Administration will leave behind for our successors.

The record recounted here in this report to the Congress is one of solid accomplishment—a record that speaks for itself. This report is organized in six parts:

• First, this message to you on what the management agenda for this Administration has been, and how far we have gone toward implementing that agenda over the past 7 years.

• Second, an overview of government in the year 2000 and our plans to be prepared for the changes it will require.

• Third, a summary of accomplishments and our goals for the coming year in our priority areas of credit, financial management, productivity, improved services through technology, procurement, and privatization.

• Fourth, a description of the roles played by key agencies such as the General Services Administration, the Office of Personnel Management, and the Department of the Treasury, as well as special organizations such as the President's Council on Management Improvement, and the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency-both of which have been invaluable in their support and assistance. This section also includes detailed plans, agency by agency, for the implementation of our goals in each of our priority areas, and our legislative agenda.

• Fifth, official reports to the Congress, required each year, recording and analyzing our progress to date.

• And Sixth, a collection of additional data on selected aspects of the management program.

I have been deeply gratified by the professionalism and spirit of cooperation with which Federal executives and employees have assisted in realizing the management goals of this Administration. We can be very proud of our joint effort to date, but on no account can we be content with what has been done so far. Genuine reform will require continuing dedication and a devotion to stated management goals that endures long after my time in office has expired.

If we know anything about the future, we know that the pace of change—already swift—will be even faster. It is no idle question to ask how democratic institutions will manage to keep up. Americans in the 21st century will have additional, and perhaps different, needs and expectations of their government. To meet those needs and expectations, we must prepare now by overhauling, modernizing, and streamlining the machinery of our Federal system.

Accordingly, I have asked the President's Council on Management Improvement, working with my Office of Domestic Affairs and the Office of Management and Budget, to review these issues, and report to me in August of this year with recommendations for actions to be taken.

The result of their effort should be a blueprint for government in the 21st century: better governance over those things that are truly Federal in nature, increased responsiveness to the needs and demands of the American people, and less taxpayer dollars spent on the administration of government.

A more productive, better managed government, with a workforce that delivers excellence-this is an important part of the legacy I plan to leave to future Presidents and the America they serve.


February 18, 1988.

Note: The message was not issued as a White House press release.

Ronald Reagan, Message on the Management of the United States Government Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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