Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., chairs a Senate Budget Committee task force on government performance. (Getty Images)
The federal government faces such daunting management challenges that it must make comprehensive changes to pay, hiring and management practices, one expert argues in a scathing report released Tuesday.
What was once described as a "quiet crisis" in government performance has become "a deafening roar," Paul Light, a New York University professor of public service, wrote in the report. "We see the result in unsuccessful, redundant, wasteful and counter-productive efforts in government."
The report, titled "Creating High-Performance Government: A Once-in-a-Generation Opportunity," was released at a Capitol news conference attended by Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who chairs a Senate Budget Committee task force on government performance.
Among the problems singled out:
• Leadership that has been "inconsistent at best, negligent at worst."
Only 44 percent of federal employees believe that leaders of their organizations generate high levels of motivation and commitment from their workforces, the report said. To cut management fat, Light proposed eliminating about half of the 3,000 posts set aside for presidential appointees in the Executive Service and the Schedule C classification category. To trim bloat in high-cost civil service layers, the government could generally hire only one manager or professional in the GS-13 to -15 ranks for every two who leave or retire. The reverse would be true for service delivery employees: For every one who leaves, two would be hired.
• Pay that doesn't reward performance.
Light stops short of pressing for an end to the General Schedule system, but urges creation a "results-based pay-for-performance system" that includes training and monitoring systems to assure fairness. "We need to make grade and step increases more sensitive to individual, unit and agency performance and abandon automatic increases for any employee," he told Federal Times.
• Rampant inefficiencies, costing taxpayers billions of dollars, in the delivery of government services.
Those include a growing reliance on contractors; duplication in government programs, and a $300 billion backlog of delinquent tax collections. Light recommends reducing the contract workforce — now estimated about 7.5 million — by 500,000; improving tax collections and streamlining the federal acquisitions process.
Some of Light's suggestions dovetail with Obama administration priorities, such as reducing improper government payments and unloading thousands of unneeded or underused government properties. President Obama is also mulling a government restructuring to bolster American economic competitiveness, but has so far released no details.
To follow up on his agenda, Light recommends creation of a "Government Reform Corporation," able to submit legislative proposals to the White House and Congress for an immediate up-or-down vote. Not only would that approach be efficient, Light wrote, but it would let the public know that the government will finally tackle "some of its most deep-seated problems with effective and large-scale reforms."