Deregulating the Public Service: Can Government Be Improved?

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

1
What Is Deregulating
The Public Service?

John J. DiIulio Jr.

THE NATION'S federal, state, and local public service is in deep trouble. Many government agencies cannot attract and retain first-rate executives, managers, and line staff. Most do not operate in a way that inspires public confidence. In reaction, some observers say "privatize everything," others deny that serious problems exist, and still others chant "run government like a business." All three responses are misguided. The real challenge is to articulate and implement an effective strategy for improving government administration, and soon. So far, this challenge has gone unmet.

The underlying problem of public administration in the United States is probably not that most public servants exercise too much discretion on the job but that most exercise too little. In 1988 Constance Horner, director of the federal Office of Personnel Management, called for "deregulating" the public service to achieve more flexibility.

The size of the government work force could be substantially reduced if public managers had more flexibility in making basic personnel and purchasing decisions, and if lower paperwork requirements freed them to focus more on the services they are supposed to provide. [There are] tens of thousands of pages of regulations restricting their every move.

Federal managers have little discretion to use pay to reward and retain good employees. . . . Status on the basis of seniority is the dominant ethos of civil service administration. . . . It would be much better if senior managers could get their appropriated budgets and decide how many people to hire, at what pay levels, to get the job done.1

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