Step 1: --Decentralizing Decisionmaking Power

To people working in any large organization--public or private--"headquarters" can be a dreaded word. It's where cumbersome rules and regulations are created and good ideas are buried. Headquarters never understands problems, never listens to employees. When the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) surveyed federal employees, fewer than half expressed any confidence in supervisors two layers above them--or any confidence at all in their organization's overall structure. See Note 4

Yet everyone knows the truth: Management too often is happily unaware of what occurs at the front desk or in the field. In fact, it's the people who work closest to problems who know the most about solving them. As one federal employee asked Vice President Gore, "If we can't tell what we're doing right and wrong, who better can?"

The Social Security Administration's Atlanta field office has shown the wisdom of empowering workers to fulfill their mission. Since 1990, disability benefit claims have risen 40 percent, keeping folks in the Atlanta office busy. So workers created a reinvention team. They quickly realized that if they asked customers to bring along medical records when filing claims, workers could reduce the time they spent contacting doctors and requesting the records. That idea alone saved 60 days on the average claim. Even better, it saved taxpayers $351,000 in 1993, and will save half a million dollars in 1994. The same workers also found a better, cheaper way to process disability claims in cases reviewed by administrative law judges. Instead of asking judges to send them written decisions, they created a system for judges to send decisions electronically. It's quicker, and it eliminates paperwork, too. See Note 5

Now here's the other side of the coin. A Denver Post reporter recently uncovered this bureaucracy-shaking news: It takes 43 people to change a light bulb.

An internal memo written by a manager at the U.S. Department of Energy {Rocky Flats} plant recommended a new safety procedure for "the replacement of a light bulb in a criticality beacon." The beacon, similar to the revolving red lamp atop a police car, warns workers of nuclear accidents. The memo said that the job should take at least 43 people over 1,087.1 hours to replace the light. It added that the same job used to take 12 workers 4.15 hours. The memo called for a planner to meet with six others at a work-control meeting; talk with other workers who have done the job before; meet again; get signatures from five people at that work-control meeting; get the project plans approved by separate officials overseeing safety, logistics, waste management and plant scheduling; wait for a monthly criticality-beacon test; direct electricians to replace the bulb; and then test and verify the repair. See Note 6

I had seven teams of people each restructure our business... After the third presentation, my executive assistant...said to me, "Bill, this stuff is fabulous. In fact, we never would have thought of these things. But you've got to trust. People don't come to work with the intent of screwing it up every day. They come here to make it better. Bill Goins, President Xerox Integrated Systems Operations, Reinventing Government Summit, June 25, 1993

This example drives the point home: Too many rules have created too many layers of supervisors and controllers who, however well-intentioned, wind up "managing" simple tasks into complex processes. They waste workers' time and squander the taxpayers' money.

Decentralizing the power to make decisions will energize government to do everything smarter, better, faster, and cheaper--if only because there will be more hands and heads on the task at the same time. Vice President Gore likens the effect of decentralization to the advent of "massive parallelism"--the technology used in the world's fastest supercomputers. Standard computers with central processors solve problems in sequence: One by one, each element of information travels back and forth from the machine's central processor. It's like running six errands on Saturday, but going home between each stop. Even at the speed of light, that takes time. In massively parallel computers, hundreds of smaller processors solve different elements of the same problem simultaneously. It's the equivalent of a team of six people each deciding to take on one of the Saturday errands.

Roam on the Range

Ranchers, allowed to graze their cattle in Missouri's Mark Twain National Forest, regularly must move their herds to avoid over-grazing any plot of land. Until recently, ranchers had to apply at the local Forest Service office for permits to move the cattle. Typically, the local office sent them on to the regional office for approval, which, in some cases, sent them on to the national office in Washington. Approval could take up to 60 days--long enough, in a dry season, to hurt the forest, leave the cows hungry, and annoy the rancher. Thanks to an employee suggestion, the local staffer now can settle the details of moving the herd directly with the rancher. If the rancher comes in by 10 a.m., the cattle can be on the move by noon. Ranchers are happier, cattle are fatter, the environment is better protected--all because local workers now make decisions well within their judgment.

America's best-run businesses are realizing enormous cost savings and improving the quality of their products by pushing decisions down as far as possible and eliminating unnecessary management layers. The federal government will adopt this decentralized approach as its new standard operating procedure. This technique can unearth hundreds of good ideas, eliminate employee frustration, and raise the morale and productivity of an entire organization.

If offered greater responsibility, will employees rise to the task? We are confident they will. After all, few people take up federal work for the money. Our interviews with hundreds of federal workers support what survey after survey of public service workers have found: People want challenging jobs. See Note 7 Yet, that's exactly what our rule-bound and over-managed system too often denies them.

Action: Over the next five years, the executive branch will decentralize decisionmaking, and increase the average span of a manager's control.

See Note 8

Currently, the federal government averages one manager or supervisor for every seven employees. See Note 9 Management expert Tom Peters recommends that well-performing organizations should operate in a range of 25 to 75 workers for every one supervisor. See Note 10 One "best company" puts Peters' principle to shame: "Never have so many been managed by so few," Ritz-Carlton Vice President Patrick Mene told Vice President Gore at the Philadelphia Summit. "There's only about 12 of us back in Atlanta for 11,500 employees. And it really starts with passionate leadership." See Note 11

Working toward a quality government means reducing the power of headquarters vis-- --vis field operations. As our reinvented government begins to liberate agencies from over-regulation, we no longer will need 280,000 separate supervisory staff and 420,000 "systems control" staff to support them. See Note 12 Instead, we will encourage more of our 2.1 million federal employees to become managers of their own work.

Put simply, all federal agencies will delegate, decentralize, and empower employees to make decisions. This will let front-line and front-office workers use their creative judgment as they offer service to customers and solve problems.

As part of their performance agreements with the President, cabinet secretaries and agency CEOs will set goals for increasing the span of control for every manager. (See Step 3.) The federal government should seek to double its managerial span of control in the coming years.

Some employees may view such pruning as threatening--to their jobs or their chances for promotion. It is true that the size of the federal workforce will decrease. But our goal is to make jobs meaningful and challenging. Removing a layer of oversight that adds no value to customers does more than save money: It demonstrates trust in our workers. It offers employees in dead-end or deadly dull jobs a chance to use all their abilities. It makes the federal government a better place to work--which will in turn make federal workers more productive.

As private companies have found, the key to improving service while redeploying staff and resources is thinking about the organization's staffing and operating needs from the perspective of customer needs. What does each person's task add in value to the customer? The Postal Service has developed a single criterion: It asks, "Do they touch the mail?" Where possible, other agencies should develop similar simple, easy-to-understand criteria. Pioneering federal offices have used the full variety of quality management techniques to decentralize. Many focus on passing decisions on to the work teams that deal directly with the customer. Some have produced impressive results, both in productivity and management delayering.

The Internal Revenue Service's Hartford district office slashed the time required to process a form on "currently non-collectible" taxes from 14.6 days to 1.4 days. Then it replaced time-consuming case reviews with an automated case management system and began using the manager's time to upgrade employees' skills. Delinquent tax dollars collected rose by 22 percent. The office chose not to fill vacant management positions, investing part of its staff savings in new technology to boost productivity further. Eventually, it cut overall case processing time from 40 to 21.6 weeks. See Note 13

At the Robins Air Force Base, the 1926th Communications-Computer Systems Group cut its supervisory staff in half by organizing into teams. See Note 14 An Agriculture Department personnel office that converted to self-managed work teams beefed up customer satisfaction and now uses only one manager for every 23 employees. At the Defense Logistics Agency, self-managing teams in the Defense Distribution Region Central eliminated an entire level of management, saving more than $2.5 million a year. See Note 15 In 1990, the Airways Facilities Division of the Federal Aviation Administration maintained approximately 16,000 airspace facilities, with roughly 14,000 employees. Today its workforce is organized in self-managed teams instead of units with supervisors. They now maintain more than 26,000 facilities with only 9,000 employees. See Note 16

Other decentralization and delayering plans are in the works. After a successful pilot program in 11 field service sites, the Department of Veterans Affairs is recommending an agencywide effort. See Note 17 Over the next 5 years, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) plans to convert HUD's field structure from three to two levels, eliminating the regional offices. HUD will free its five assistant secretaries to organize their own functions in the field. It will transfer many of its application and loan processing functions to private firms. While letting staff attrition dictate staff reductions- - HUD promises no layoffs--HUD plans to retrain and redeploy people into more interesting jobs, with better career ladders and better access to managers. HUD believes its restructuring effort will improve customer service while saving $157.4 million in personnel and overhead costs. See Note 18