Most people’s image of government is a sluggish, centralized bureaucracy with a hierarchical chain of command, preoccupied with rules and regulations. This form of government arose during the industrial era and was effective for decades, but it does not function well in the rapidly changing, knowledge-intensive society of the 1990’s. Today most agencies perform complex tasks, in competitive, unpredictable environments, with clients who want quality and choice. The problem goes beyond the liberal/conservative dichotomy, where arguments revolve around more programs versus less or raising taxes versus cutting spending.
What is needed is not more or less government, but a different kind— “entrepreneurial government.” This does not mean running government like a business; such an approach ignores the many differences between these endeavors. Indeed, some of the authors’ sharpest barbs are reserved for those who wish indiscriminately to privatize public programs. But they can be made more efficient and responsive.
Common themes emerge from observing innovative governments. They promote competition between service providers, prefer market mechanisms to bureaucratic ones, and measure performance. They are driven by their missions, not rules; empower citizens by pushing control out into the community; and clients are redefined as customers and offered choices. They decentralize authority (using participatory management), prevent problems instead of only offering cures, and try to earn money as well as spend it. Finally, they focus on catalyzing all sectors of the community to solve problems, rather than only on providing public services.
REINVENTING GOVERNMENT is a fresh, hopeful look at what often seems an insoluble problem: how to get government that works. It is fresh, because it restates the issue in nonpolitical terms, thereby avoiding endless partisan debate; hopeful, because its principles are drawn from real-world successes, at all governmental levels. Government can be once again transformed into a vital, effective force in society. One example after another shows that it can be done—inviting bureaucracies everywhere to reinvent themselves and encouraging voters to see that they do.