Six Trends Transforming Government: Demographics, Technology, and New Modes of Service Delivery Are Causing a Metamorphosis in Government Management
Abramson, Mark, Breul, Jonathan, Kamensky, John, The Public Manager
In the late 1990s, no one suspected that government management would dramatically change the way it has today--in emergency response; in the use of "311" service calling, Blackberries, and other personal electronic tools; and in operations, such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) transformation from a paper-bound agency to one of the most efficient in electronic services. Public managers must constantly look for ways to adopt, adapt, or innovate new ways to deliver services.
The IBM Center for The Business of Government commissions research reports by leading academics that examine the challenges facing public managers. Since 1998, the center has been studying the fluid shifts in public management at all levels of government in the United States and other countries around the world. This article summarizes a recent report, which analyzes the insights of more than 160 other reports and describes six trends that reflect the interrelated effects of demographics, technology, and new ways of delivering services. Free copies of this report, as well as all reports cited in this article, are available from www.businessofgovernment.org.
These six trends (Figure 1), often in combination with one another, are helping government successfully respond to ever-increasing complex challenges.
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The six trends span all levels of government--federal, state, and local--domestic and abroad. Many first appeared in foreign countries and then spread to the United States, some became commonplace in state or local government before national adoption, and others were spearheaded by the federal government.
1. Changing the Rules
Government has been engaged in an ongoing effort to change the "rules of the game": the formal laws, administrative requirements, and organizational structures that create and shape the actions of civil servants and citizens. In many ways, this trend is a common thread through the other five trends. By changing these rules, managers gain more flexibility, which allows them to use performance management more effectively; provide competition, choice, and incentives; and perform on demand, engage citizens, and use networks and partnerships. This trend also removes impediments to achieving high performance in a more results-oriented government.
The rules relate to the core administrative procedures governing civil service systems, procurement practices, budgeting, and financial management. Governments are increasingly discarding generic approaches and permitting departments and agencies more managerial flexibility, with customized operating procedures and approaches to delivering services. Going one step further--giving program managers more managerial flexibility and holding them accountable for performance (the second trend)--is a powerful incentive for results-based management. Also, delegating managers such authority gives those who know the most about an agency's programs the power and flexibility to make the programs work. In recent years, the rules have changed the most in three areas: human capital, financial management, and organizational structure.
Reform of the U.S. federal civil service system has become a national issue, much as it has in other countries over the past decade. After years of relative stability, the federal personnel system is now in the midst of a period of profound change. Beginning in the 1990s, a number of federal agencies under pressure to improve performance were granted special human resource management (HRM) flexibilities. The IRS, for example, received such flexibilities as part of the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998. Since passage of that law, the IRS has made remarkable strides in modernizing its structure, business practices, technology, and processes for collecting taxes. The HRM flexibilities provided in the act were critical to the success of that transformation. …