Deregulating the Public Service: Can Government Be Improved?

By John J. Diiulio Jr. | Go to book overview

But for every small step forward, obstacles to additional progress remain. The Bush administration proved unable to restrain the proliferation of political appointees, and the early evidence with respect to the new administration is no better. Faced with the necessity of reducing the national deficit, the Clinton administration has chosen to freeze pay and limit future salary increases, undercutting the earlier pay reforms. Clearly, the National Performance Review, headed by Vice President Gore, faces challenges as enormous as those encountered by the Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government (the second Hoover commission, 1953-55).1

The National Commission on the State and Local Public Service, widely referred to as the Winter commission, picked up where the Volcker commission left off. Its 1993 report, Hard Truths/Tough Choices: An Agenda for State and Local Reform, found that the public service problems identified by the Volcker commission were even more rife in state and local governments: workers demoralized by the politicization of the bureaucracy, a loss of public trust, and a decade's worth of bureaucrat bashing; severe fiscal constraints; inadequate compensation; strained labor-management relations; outmoded personnel practices; and outdated management information systems. The challenge is to meet these problems as they present themselves in fifty very different states and tens of thousands of local jurisdictions.

Thus, while our experiences in chairing national commissions on the public service have made us more conscious of the need for meaningful reform, they have done even more to make us mindful of the political, fiscal, and social obstacles to reform. Experience teaches that citizens' and legislators' interest in the problems of the public service is generally short-lived, and action to remedy the problems is often short-circuited by the next election, the next media-declared crisis in government, or the next swing in public mood. And sometimes the momentum behind public service reform has been lost in the midst of efforts to grapple with other pressing public policy challenges.

Today there is no more profound challenge than the financial weakness of state and local governments and the need to reduce the federal deficit. We yield to no one in our concern that these challenges be met. At the same time, however, we believe it is crucial that policymakers at all levels of government avoid seeking small or symbolic savings by across-the-board cuts in "the

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