May’s Influential Voice topic of government accountability is really bringing out the folks with axes to grind. Catherine Macklin’s axe is TSA (read here). Jennifer Stepniowski’s axe is personal accountability (read here). I fully support the individual initiative around learning about government so as a person who has been involved with a government entity in some form or fashion for 25 of my 30+ years of work life I would like to impart my experiences and observations during that time.
Government, for the most part, is not intended to change. If you think about it, the services that the majority of government entities provide are not geared for competitive choice. We as United States citizens don’t want choice in regards to a standing Army (do we want the current one or contract out to the highest bidder?). How much screaming is done by the populace when major policy changes are made to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid? The Founding Fathers created the checks and balances in the Constitution for the sole purpose of preventing knee-jerk change. So, when we ask for something better from an organization designed not to swiftly change you are asking a momentous task.
The majority of government organizations are NOT revenue generators. In our current economic model, consumer choice is the prime engine for providing new products and services, which drive revenue. If there is no forcing function to increase consumer use we do not provide the necessary behaviors for innovation. Let’s take the TSA case. TSA came about because of a political mandate. Airports were given a choice around increasing airline security options, either they funded it or they “participate” in the TSA contractual services package. As we find, the larger the organization the less the organization can be quickly responsive to consumer’s needs. However, since there are currently no fiscally viable other options in the airline security arena, you get all these small, nimble lemurs and an 800 pound gorilla. Who moves faster to change?
At the Federal level of government the budgetary process is specifically designed to oppose a major tenet of Lean or Six Sigma of resource efficiency and accountability. The behavior that is manifested is that if a resource manager does not spend their entire budget, they will receive less money in the out years because they failed to forecast appropriately. Plus, under Continuing Resolution Authority (when Congress fails to do their job and pass a fiscal budget in a timely manner), organizations get money in monthly chunks for continuing operations but the bulk of support activities, like training, travel, and awards, usually appear for the entire fiscal year at its midpoint. So, to get the budget spent, there is a huge spending spree in the last 6 weeks of the fiscal year just to ensure we can train, travel, and award people next year. This type of budgeting model in private industry does not exist nor would it be tolerated. There is no incentive to improve costs because they lose the ability to innovate for the future.
In our desire to complain what we often forget is that 99% of government employees want to do a good job every day. There are a number of success stories and TSA’s are rarely mentioned because we all know it is very difficult to identify the “prevention” of security incidents. My intention is not to defend TSA. I don’t enjoy flying anymore because of the way I am treated in airports. What I don’t like is a single data example of failure to be the sop for all a person’s complaints against an organization staffed by a high percentage of good people.
Oh, the next time you use a GPS to find an unknown destination or send an email over the Internet consider the fact that Garmin or your favorite Internet Service Provider is generating revenue from a Federal Government invention.More to come on strategies to enhancing a culture of change in government that require YOUR involvement.