Press Briefing on Reinventing Government by David Osborne and John Sharp
Room 450, Old Executive Office Building
2:18 P.M. EDT
MS. ROMASH: Folks, I'm going to stop it there and make Mr. Osborne and Mr. Sharp available to you. They are both on the record, so feel free to --
MR. OSBORNE: Can I just make one comment about this biennial budgeting issue? Annual budgets have lots of revisions. It's not like we don't have lots of revisions during the year already. It doesn't change anything if you go to biennial budgets.
Q: I'm questioning jurisdiction on the Hill. And there's powerful people up there that like to protect their turf.
MR. OSBORNE: Separate issue.
Q: David, let me ask you just a general question about this. The whole thrust of your report is that if you free government workers from a lot of red tape, you give them more authority to do things on their own; things will work much more efficiently. I think a lot of American citizens have a very different view of the government, that government workers are lazy malingerers, and if you give them more authority, they're going to put their brother-in-law on the payroll and run off with the Treasury. How are you going to convince people who are deeply skeptical of the honesty and integrity and work ethic of the federal work force that eliminating all these rules and giving credit cards to government managers and all the rest is not going to just lead to huge abuses? How are you going to get past that initial threshold of --
MR. OSBORNE: Well, I think you're a little bit mischaracterizing where the American people are. If you look at the polling data, they're not eager to see a lot of blood in the streets. They want government to be smaller. But they don't have quite the attitude about public employees that you're describing.
Q: Do you listen to Rush Limbaugh?
MR. OSBORNE: Well, Rush Limbaugh is not the average American. Secondly, we're not saying let's eliminate all the rules. There are 100,000 pages of personnel rules. Is there anyone in this room who thinks we need 100,000 pages of personnel rules to manage the federal government? We're talking about getting rid of a lot of them, but not all. There will still be rules. And, thirdly, there will be more accountability in the federal government because we're talking about measuring the results of what people do. And, fundamentally, what the American people care about is getting results for their dollar. They now think that 48 cents out of every federal tax dollar is wasted. They want to see some results.
So we're shifting -- we're not eliminating accountability, we're shifting accountability from, "did you follow every rule," to, "did you produce the results that we thought we were buying."
John, you want to comment on that?
MR. SHARP: Well, there are three things that have to happen in order for this to pass. Our Texas performance review was -- we're very proud of the fact that the Vice President used us a a model for the national performance review. And all the questions that we got today, everything's the same over again, it's just different questions.
And the three things that have to happen is, one, you have to have very good staff work. I mean, you have a lot of political demagogues that run around and say that this fat in government is something that's stuck out over in the end, and you just take a hacksaw and chop it off. It's not. It's like marbling in meat, and you have to have very good people to get inside those agencies and work.
This is the first time in my lifetime that there has been a study like this done in Washington, D.C. using people that don't hate government. I think it's very important to do it like that. If you do a study with people that absolutely hate government, one they're going to slash and burn instead of weeding and cultivate, as we call it, then you're going to come up with a report that doesn't work and probably shouldn't pass.
The second thing that you have to have in order to pass this stuff is, you have to have some politician, high-ranking, that has enough guts to stand up and say I'm for this stuff. In Texas, it was the governor and virtually everybody else, and here it's the Vice President and the President who I believe, from all accounts, is willing to go everywhere and anywhere it can in order to sell this, and has done an extraordinary job.
I haven't been in this business very long -- about 12 years -- but I've never seen the kind of leadership that Al Gore provided in pushing and pulling this report to where it's at.
But the third thing that has to happen is, you've got to turn the lights on. I hate to talk about the cockroach theory of government, but special interest groups operate just like cockroaches: when it is dark, they do well, when it is light they run to the corners. And there is no one that can defend the kind of stuff that these people found in this report.
No special interest group can get any congressman to stand up in front of you and defend it if you, here, tell the American people about it. And the reason -- at least half of the reason that our stuff in Texas passed, half the first time, 85 percent the second time, was because the press just told the truth and they told it over and over again to where my daddy and everybody else in Texas understood that there is something real wrong with what goes on in state government.
The same is true here. They already know it's messed up. But if they see everything in this report, if every American could read this report, they would demand that their congressmen and women vote for it.
Q: Sir, but how do you square that with the fact that three of the programs that would actually be eliminated benefit your state -- you're probably familiar with them -- wool, mohair and honey -- the glare of light of the public perception that these are idiotic that have shown on these for several years, they still exist.
MR. SHARP: What's the matter with eliminating goofy programs just because they're in my state?
Q: No, no. But don't you attribute that to the political staying power of your congressional --
MR. SHARP: Yes. What I'm saying is that if the Vice President of the United States has the guts to stand up and take on 600 and something special interest groups, then the rest of us, for the good of the country, ought to be able to say, let's forget our parochial interests for a while, even if it costs us a little politically, and do it and go along with it.
Q: Why is this one different from the past --
MR. SHARP: It's different in a lot of sense because, number one, it was done by different people. They came up with different results. They believed in government, they believed that government could do very good things. It was different in the sense that in the other reports that you've had before, you have "thank you very much," put it on a shelf and it's gone, and I don't believe that it's going to happen here, and those same people are willing to go all over the place and try to sell it.
What happened in Texas that was probably also very good -- because the press was so active and just letting people know what their government was doing to them is that it became very nonpartisan. Half our stuff was sponsored by Republicans, half by Democrats.
The one truth that we found out in this process and we found this out here, too, is there is no difference -- the only difference between Republicans and Democrats is, both will spend every dime in the Treasury; Republicans will say they feel bad about it. There is no other difference between the two. (Laughter.)
MR. OSBORNE: I want to take a crack at this last question, because the assumption is this has failed every time it's been tried before. It's not true. I mean, in 1937, FDR created the Brownlow Committee, and it created the administrative structure we have today in the federal government.
Both Hoover commissions in the 1940s and 1950s basically worked. A lot of those recommendations were passed. There are some moments in history when it is possible to do this. Five years ago, it would not have been possible to do this. But you think about what's happened in the last two years. Think about how angry people are at their government. Think about the polling data. You think about the election last year, the defeat of an incumbent. You think about the Ross Perot phenomenon. How many Americans have just had it up to here, believe government's broke and it's got to be fixed, and then you look at the evidence around the country. You look at how many governors are doing this. You look at how many mayors are doing this. And then go around the world and look at Great Britain. Look at Australia, and look at Sweden and look at New Zealand. Look at several other countries. This is an historical moment at which, for some reason, things have come together which make it possible to change government in ways that just was impossible 10 years ago.
Q: wool, mohair and honey had been tried earlier this year --
MR. OSBORNE: Oh, sure. Wool, mohair and honey are not the heart of reinventing government. We hope we get them. But they're not the heart of making government work better.
Q: Mr. Sharp, a lot of these things, though, in the -- they are not black and white, and I would refer you to just one which redefines federal oversight of coal miner regulations, which I read to mean pulling back the number of federal inspections in coal states, long an objective of industry, and also complaints from Mr. Gore's own state, an industry there. I'm wondering what the purpose -- how does that fit into your black and white scenario of what's good and bad? That's a major policy issue.
MR. SHARP: The black and white scenario is who are the customers of government. The question to date that is always asked, the question we've always asked is, who are the customers of government.
Q: Some environmentalists would argue that the people who want to have their --
MS. ROMASH: If you want to talk about the specific recommendations and what they are and what's behind them, I can put you in touch with somebody on the team.
Q: Yes, I would like on that one specifically.
MS. ROMASH: I don't think it's fair to ask John that question.
Q: Can I ask Mr. Osborne a question? In your book, and in other books like it, like "Profits in the Dark," which talked about Xerox, there are a couple of main themes. One is entrepreneurialship in government. It seems to me in your book, you're talking a lot about raising money through selling government services.
And the second theme is that it takes a long time -- no matter how many programs you do, just through the whole mindset to get through a work force. I mean, at Xerox it took like 10 years to get this idea of total quality management through.
So the question is, when you deal with something as huge as the federal government, A, did you consider any of these entrepreneurial things for selling services to raise money; and, B, how are you going to deal with the sort of work force mindset question?
MR. OSBORNE: A, yes we did. Read Chapter 4. They're in there. There's a lot of that. B, how do you do it? I mean, yes, it takes eight to 10 years. That's what the report says. That's what the Vice President says all the time. It's very difficult. This is going to be a long, tough slog. Even if Congress cooperates fully and passes everything we want, we have an organization of more than two million people and we have to change the culture. And it's going to be very difficult.
There are all kinds of ways you do it. You do it every way possible. Already we -- last April, asked every department to create a reinvention team and reinvention laboratories. The teams were to do what we were doing within the department: Figure out what to change. Figure out what regulations to get rid of, how to restructure, how to reorganize, how to change the budget process, whatever. Figure out what to change. The laboratories were to begin experimenting -- taking this particular program or this particular work process and reengineering it -- redesigning it. You've got thousands and thousands of people already at work in the federal government, a lot of them very excited doing that. Now, we have to just continue to roll that out. I mean, we have to do that for 10 years essentially.
Q: The one branch that you didn't have a design team working on, which has its own, is Congress.
MR. OSBORNE: Right.
Q: Now, what is there in here that is implicit that requires change on the part of the Legislative Branch? Biennial budgeting is obviously one. But what are some other things that have to do with congressional reform?
MR. OSBORNE: A number of things about the budget process, such as less earmarking, less micromanagement through the budget process so that managers can manage their funds in a rational way rather than having them earmarked into little pots of money.
The ability to say, okay, when a program doesn't spend all of its money in a fiscal year, that agency can keep half of that money. That's a change in behavior on the part of Congress. If you keep doing it the way we've done it, you give everybody a very powerful incentive, as all of you know, to spend all their money by the end of the fiscal year. So there's a huge rush in September. We want to change that.
John, do you want to comment on anything else in the budget proposals that -- like that, that require something from Congress? No? Okay.
And I guess the whole strategy -- and it really comes through the government performance and results act rather than through our recommendations -- of measuring results -- I mean, it's a very different thing if you're in Congress and you're appropriating money to say well, here's the appropriation and these are the results we want and we're going to hold you accountable for results.
MS. ROMASH: A couple more.
Q: David, one of the predecessors to this, the most recent predecessor, the Grace Commission -- can you speak to the difference between this effort and the Grace Commission?
MR. OSBORNE: Sure. Sure.
Q: In both spirit and --
MR. OSBORNE: There are a number of differences. One, the Grace Commission was mainly businesspeople -- come in to tell government how to do its job better. That doesn't work. It doesn't work in local government, it doesn't work in the federal government, in doesn't work in the state government. People who know what's wrong with government are people who know government.
Secondly, the Grace Commission was, by and large, an effort to cut down the size of government, not necessarily to make it work better. It wasn't done by an administration that believed in making government work better. Therefore, it had, I think, not a whole lot of credibility on the Hill or with the bureaucracy. This is done by an administration that believes in government using federal employees.
And then third, you had a Republican using federal employees. And then, third, you had a Republican president doing it, appointing a commission and a Democratic Congress, and not a lot of trust between the two. And hopefully we have a better dynamic at this point. And then I guess I'd say the last factor is what I mentioned earlier: This is a different historical moment. We couldn't have done this in 1984. We really couldn't. We can in 1993.
John, do you want to --
MS. ROMASH: Last question --
Q: Mr. Osborne, you mentioned, or people have mentioned -- that there are some things you studied and you may still get to, but you just didn't in this round. Can you list some things that would produce big budgetary savings, either elimination of programs or other types of reforms that you're proposing here that were studied and rejected? Could you talk about the reasons they were rejected? And can you certify that none of the things you rejected were looked and decided although they might be a good idea that political interests, public or private, would be against them and it wasn't worth it?
MR. OSBORNE: The answer to all three questions is no, I can't.
MS. KAMARCK: There were issues that we looked at that we did not include in the final report because we ran out of time to do a good job. We did an awful lot of work in six months. We're going to continue to release reports over the next year. And I think you'll see some of these issues come back. But we ran out of time --
Q: Did you rule out anything because it was decided that the political fight to pass them wasn't worth it?
MS. KAMARCK: No, no.
MS. ROMASH: Thank you.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END2:34 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing on Reinventing Government by David Osborne and John Sharp Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269181