Academic journal article Public Administration Review

The Rhetoric of Reform and Political Reality in the National Performance Review

Academic journal article Public Administration Review

The Rhetoric of Reform and Political Reality in the National Performance Review

Article excerpt

The first phase of the National Performance Review (NPR I), announced September 7, 1993, redistributes control over administration between the president and Congress, and among and within agencies. In focusing on how government works rather than on what government does, NPR I establishes a contemporary form of the politics/administration dichotomy. Congressional and other political action affecting administration through rules and reporting requirements is defined as unwarranted involvement in administration. Bureaucracies that administer these rules and requirements are to be reduced or eliminated. Announced after the November 1994 congressional elections (Barr, 1995; Jehl, 1995), the second phase of the National Performance Review (NPR II) addresses what government does. NPR II advocates consolidating, developing, privatizing, and terminating programs. It addresses perceived public concerns not only with how government works but also with the size, scope, and intrusiveness of federal operations.

NPR II reallocates control of programmatic activity within the intergovernmental system, between government systems, and between government and other organizations. It characterizes administration as appropriately concerned with the social and economic value of programs as well as with how government works.

Neither phase of the NPR directly and systematically addresses trends that probably will shape much of public administration in the early 21st century. The first is the imbalance between consumption and savings and investment in the United States marked by concern with deficits and debt, entitlement spending, demographic change, and declining private and public investment. The second is the challenge of sorting out relationships and responsibilities among levels of governments, and governments and other organizations. The third is reconciling traditions of constitutional governance and legal accountability with the search for flexibility, innovation, and productivity in addressing managerial and programmatic issues.

Part I of this commentary analyzes NPR I as political theory, prescription, and action. Part II summarizes the central themes of NPR II. Part III assesses the NPR as an effort to revitalize government.

The National Performance Review, Phase One (NPR I)(1)

Like many previous efforts to rethink public administration (Waldo, 1990), NPR I is both an administrative and political approach to how and by whom federal agencies should be organized, controlled, and managed. NPR I is administrative theory, prescription, and action. Its stated administrative objectives are deregulating administration by reducing red tape, empowering front-line employees to produce results, satisfying customers of programs, and reducing administrative costs.

Several commentators have analyzed the approach to reinventing government underlying NPR I, as well as recommendations and implementing activities (Frederickson, 1992; Goodsell, 1993; Moe, 1994; Kettl, 1994; U.S. General Accounting Office, 1994). NPR I is also political theory, prescription, and action. Its political objective is changing power, authority, and control over administration in the federal government. The central issue is who should control administration and why.

The Political Theory of the NPR

The NPR's political theory is a paradigm based upon a paradox. The paradigm is administration empowered to satisfy the needs of the American people free of politics, red tape, and hierarchy. The paradox is that this new paradigm for the information age resurrects and reinvents the old paradigm of the Progressive Era and the industrial age, the much-criticized politics/administration dichotomy (Rosenbloom, 1993). On its face, NPR I would shift the balance of decision-making power over interpreting and implementing policy from politics to administration. In theory, it would significantly enlarge the sphere of front-line administrative power and action by cutting red tape, delayering and downsizing bureaucracy, empowering front-line administrators, and establishing customer service as the objective of federal operations. …

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