Monday, April 18, 2011

Limited Yes, But Far More Energetic And Vigorous!

Ideology aside, there is no doubt that the federal government is too large!

It was too large to be functional long before we had deficits run up first by Republicans for ill-conceived wars and tax cuts for the wealthy that we couldn’t afford.

It was even too large to be functional before Democrats increased that deficit to stave off an economic meltdown caused by shoddy regulation and too much deregulation while defending too many programs that just don’t work or no longer work.

It’s been much too large for a long time.  At a certain size, organizations, public or private, lose their vigor.  I learned it from consultants when I was a CEO.

No matter how functional and energetic an organization becomes, each year there will always be 20% of the human capital that is no longer productive or a good fit, even given excellent training and performance feedback.

The same percentage can always also be value-engineered from even the most productive programs, products and services.cutting_costs

Fail to ferret out the 20% year after year, building up layer after layer and it sucks the energy and life and vigor out of any enterprise.

Sheer size also ultimately makes the task of digging down to find the 20% more difficult.  It becomes easier to just expand to make up for lost productivity or work around the waste.

The answer isn’t top down either.  That just results in cutting the wrong programs or the wrong elements and letting the wrong people go.  Top-down cost cutting is a recipe for dysfunction.

Only the people actually working in the Federal Government or any large enterprise can tell you where to cut and it isn’t about rank.  The 20% rule applies just as much to managers and executives, too often promoted beyond their capabilities for no other reason than seniority and then given little or no training and not held accountable.

Only the people who are excelling at their work as well as working determinedly to make programs and services excel can be trusted with ferretting out the 20% that aren’t.

The current caucus of Republican elected officials is proving themselves far too ideological, rigid and partisan to do the job.  Democratic officials are far too trusting in the “intent” of programs to admit that lack of funds isn’t the problem as much as a lack of vigor and results-based accountability.

I believe we desperately need a functional and energetic Federal Government in the spirit of Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and even Franklin Roosevelt (FDR) including increased funding for energy research and technology and infrastructure and clean air and water given the challenges we face.

FDR is unfairly blamed by some for the expansion of Federal Government but if you look at programs pioneered under his administrations, especially those focused on work-relief compared to today’s approach to unemployment benefits, they worked then because they were vigorously focused on social mobility.

Just compare the intensity of unemployment programs of the 1930s and the relentless focus on putting people to work in exchange for benefits to today’s programs, often resented even by those they are intended to benefit.

Sheer size and embedded bureaucracy has bludgeoned the sense-of-urgency out of these and other well-intentioned programs. 

With all respect to the majority of people working for our various levels of government who have a sense of urgency and even-handedness and a determination for continuing and never-ending improvement, the organizational brand for government in general is stigmatized and undermined today by a small minority of workers who are lethargic, discourteous, distracted, complaining yet unwilling to act on complaints, heavy-handed, inflexible and disinterested in change or improvement.

They lack vigor!

No comments: