Making Washington Work: Tales of Innovation in the Federal Government

Making Washington Work: Tales of Innovation in the Federal Government

Making Washington Work: Tales of Innovation in the Federal Government

Making Washington Work: Tales of Innovation in the Federal Government

Synopsis

Everybody knows federal agencies are brain-dead leviathans. Everybody knows that the watchword of federal management is "that's the way we've always done it." Everybody knows that any creativity within American government shows up only in the cities and states. Everybody's wrong. In 1995 the Ford Foundation's annual "Innovation in American Government" award competition was opened up to federal candidates and a third of the winners since then have been federal institutions. This book profiles the 14 federal award winners from 1995 to 1998 and challenges the conventional wisdom about the federal bureaucracy's capacity to adapt. Examples include the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which figured out how to identify and act upon business and government's shared stake in keeping dangerous products out of consumers' hands; and the Wage and Hour inspectors in the Labor Department, who deployed market leverage to put pressure on the garment-industry scofflaws whose sweatshops had evaded conventional enforcement.,The stories show how pressure, promises, and professional pride can galvanize federal managers and front-line workers to overcome what are admittedly imposing impediments to change, and persevere with new ways to deliver on their missions. And they illustrate the unfashionable truth that innovation is within Washington's repertoire after all. Copublished with the Council for Excellence in Government

Excerpt

America's state and local governments, according to conventional wisdom, are the nation's principal laboratories of democracy. and indeed, significant policy initiatives at the national level almost invariably do have precursors at the state or local level. Naturally, then, the Innovations in American Government program first looked to the state and local level when it set out systematically to identify and celebrate exemplary innovations in the public sector.

Gradually, however, those responsible for the Innovations Program became aware that the federal government was in ferment as well. So the annual Innovations in American Government competition--financed by the Ford Foundation and administered by Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government in partnership with the Council for Excellence in Government--was opened to federal contenders in 1995. Since then, hundreds of impressive federal initiatives have been considered in the Innovations competition each year, and roughly one-third of all Innovations award winners have been federal agencies. the fourteen award- winning federal programs are profiled in the following pages.

The spirit of innovation's ability to remain vigorous in the federal system is in one sense rather surprising. Stability, consistency, and equal treatment for all are cardinal public values, most deeply ingrained at the national level since it is there that the most critical tax, regulatory, and social insurance rules are established for a highly diverse society. These values are often interpreted so as to dictate rigid, by-the-book adminis-

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