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Bob Copyright © 2017by Robert D.


Behn’s Performance Leadership Report

An occasional (and maybe even insightful) examination of the issues, dilemmas, challenges,
and opportunities for improving performance and producing real results in public agencies.

“W hat were they thinking?”

On why it is silly for presidents, governors, and mayors to Vol. 13, No. 7, March 2017

Waste Talent on Reorganizing Government

Reorganization is back. President achieving other im portant purposes. purpose and its legal authority? Does
Trump will reorganize the U.S. gov- Trump’s budget “blueprint” is nec- the agency lack the necessary opera-
ernment. Despite his pledge to be a essarily brief— only 62 pages. Still it tional com petence? Is there a lack of
different president, Trum p is m im ic- includes a short section on “Manage- m otivational leadership? Are financial
ing his predecessors. “To im prove the m ent,” which em phasizes “Making and other resources inadequate or
efficiency, effectiveness, and account- Government W ork Again.” And it does inappropriate? Is the opposition from
ability of the executive branch,” he draw attention to the executive order. influential stakeholders too powerful?
issued an executive order to create “A W hy do presidents love to reorga- The factors preventing a public agen-
Com prehensive Plan for Reorganizing nize? It suggests they are trying to cy from achieving its purpose could
the Executive Branch.” He tasked his im prove perform ance. They m ust be be m any and com plex.
director of Management and Budget aligning the functional features of an If none of these possible contribu-
“to propose a plan to reorganize gov- agency (or several agencies) to best tors to an absence of efficiency, effec-
ernmental functions and elim inate achieve im portant public purposes. tiveness, and accountability is a sig-
unnecessary agencies.” Rarely, however, do they start with nificant cause, m aybe a reorganiza-
Sound familiar? W hen Jim m y purpose. Instead, they start (implic- tion is the best rem edy. Nevertheless,
Carter ran for president, he told citi- itly) with the assum ption that the reorganization alone will not fix inad-
zens, “Don’t vote for m e unless you structure of governm ent is screwed equate legal authority. It will not
want to see the executive branch of up. How else can you explain its lack autom atically im prove operational
government completely reorganized.” of efficiency, effectiveness, and ac- com petence. It will not generate moti-
Then, once he becam e president, countability? Thus follows the second vational leadership. Neither will it
Carter launched his “President’s Reor- assumption: If we redesign the orga- produce additional resources or neu-
ganization Project,” staffed with som e nization, then efficiency, effective- tralize stakeholder opposition.
of the most talented people in his ness, and accountability all im prove. Moreover, any attempt to reorga-
administration. Unfortunately, it is nize governm ent consumes talent.
not obvious how much the few m ajor Hum an talent. That is the opportu-
changes produced by this project “Talent is scarcer than m oney,” nity cost of any reorganization effort.
improved governm ent’s perform ance. Jam es Q. W ilson rem inded us. For the m en and women who will be
Still, presidents love to reorganize. So why do so m any presidents reorganizing could have been doing
It suggests they are aligning structure (governors and m ayors) waste som ething else: directly improving
with purpose. Hoover, Truman, Bush, this precious resource on reorga- effectiveness, efficiency, and account-
Obama, and others have put reorga- nizing governm ent? W hy don’t ability. These talented people could
nization on their personal agenda. they put their best talent to work have been exercising leadership to
Thus, in the “Managem ent” section producing real results? obtain the necessary legal authority,
of his budget— America First: A Budget to im prove the organization’s opera-
Blueprint to Make America Great Again tional com petence, to motivate indi-
— Trump stated that “in roughly a Unfortunately, reorganization will viduals and team s to pursue the pur-
year,” he will send Congress “a com - not autom atically m ake that happen. pose with dedication and creativity, to
prehensive plan for reorganization.” After all, it is people working collec- garner the necessary resources, and
W hat a waste of talent. Yes, m ov- tively, cooperatively, and collabor- to build an effective political coalition.
ing the boxes around m ight help. But atively that produce efficiency, effec- Any effort to reorganize any gov-
there is no ideal organizational struc- tiveness, and accountability. The key ernm ent will divert the talents of lots
ture. Achieving major public purposes isn’t the structure. It’s the abilities of people. Indeed, always remember
requires the intelligence and energy of that people bring to their tasks com - what Jam es Q. W ilson said: “Talent is
many people (who may not all be in bined with their available resources. scarcer than m oney.” d
the same agency or departm ent). Thus, a chief executive— president,
If to achieve one purpose, a Presi- governor, or m ayor— who seeks m ore Robert D. Behn, a lecturer at Harvard
dent reorganizes all of the relevant efficiency, effectiveness, and account- University's John F. Kennedy School
units to better coordinate their ef- ability, needs to first check what is of Governm ent, chairs the executive-
forts, he will also make it m ore diffi- inhibiting their staff’s effectiveness. education program “Driving Govern-
cult to achieve other im portant pur- W hat could be contributing to the m ent Performance: Leadership Strate-
poses. For if one structure is optim al inefficiency, ineffectiveness, or dearth gies that Produce Results.” His book,
for achieving one specific purpose, it in accountability? Is there a m is- The Perform anceStat Potential, is
is not likely to be ideally suited for m atch between an agency’s public available in paperback.

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