RAND: Ways To Improve Government Performance
RAND has a new book coming out entitled, High-Performance Government: Structures, Leadership, Incentives. It consists of a series of essays by RAND scholars suggesting ways the federal government should reform itself:
- 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.
There have been moves in recent years to overhaul the federal personnel system to make it more flexible. Not surprisingly, they have mostly been opposed by the employees’ union. Uniformity and rigidity are hallmarks of bureacracy and not necessarily a bad thing. Remember, the rationale for a bureaucratized civil service was to prevent the corruption of the spoils system.
Another huge obstacle to these reforms is that federal salaries are generally capped at the level of a Member of Congress. Despite the public outcry whenever Congress raises its own pay–for rather obvious reasons–Congressmen are woefully underpaid given their level of responsibility, the cost of living in Washington, and the requirement to maintain a home in their District. Most Members, though, are independently wealthy and have little incentive to incur the wrath of the voters over raising their pay. Either congressional pay needs to be set, along with other federal salaries, by some sort of independent commission (whose recommendations would still have to be enacted by Congress to comply with the Constitution) or civil service and congressional salaries need to be decoupled.