|FeaturesGetting a Leash
on Leviathan A Legislative Agenda for State Government Reform Getting a Leash on Leviathan, Part 3 by Robert Tauber
ast month, we looked at a gubernatorial and legislative agenda for bringing about important transformation in Nevadas state government. Proposed was an approach that imposes upon the state bureaucracy an energetic executive agenda for competitive sourcing and privatization (CS&P), along with legislative mandates for CS&P and government reformall driven by a strong fiscal imperative. In that article, we confined our presentation of a legislative agenda to one which supports CS&P. Deferred until this issue were the other aspects of the legislative mandate: those items dealing specifically with government reform. So let us now address those.
Any worthwhile government reform legislation has to force institutional changes that will be preserved through the law, but will not destroy effective government through micro-management. Its a challenge, because by their nature legislatures have but two corrective instruments: mandates and prohibitions.
The problem that Governor Guinn addressed above is the lack of planning. I would suggest, however, that what underlies this is a deficiency in agencies performance accountabilitywhen executing both their budgets and their basic agency missions. Evaluating government effectiveness in this context, the question that must be answered in regard to both of these aspects is, "Performance compared to what?" Hence, the need for plans.
The Federal Model
Though infinitely larger and more complex than the State of Nevada, the federal government is currently undergoing radical change brought about by congressional mandates for performance accountability. Beginning in 1990 with the Chief Financial Officers Act, and then following with a fusillade of other reform legislation, Congress trained its sights upon the federal executive branch with sweeping and often painful requirements for performance accountability.
It is not uncommon for states to take their lead from legislation passed at the federal level. For example, the implementation of Virginias CS&P statute reads like something right out of OMB Circular A-76. Here in Nevada, the federal enactments specific to our needswith concepts we can adapt for specific reform legislation in the next legislatureare the following:
The CFO Act was designed principally to accomplish four objectives:
This foray into the fiscal accountability arena was then complemented by the enactment nearly a half-decade later of the Government Management Reform Act. Among other things the GMRA mandated audited annual financial statements for all CFO agencies. Next the Federal Financial Management Improvement Act was enacted to compel all CFO agencies to meet federal financial management standards as laid out by the Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board. The law also requires audits of each agency to ensure compliance. Where noncompliance is found, formal remediation plans have to be implemented to bring the agency into compliance within three years.
The Government Performance and Reform Act had four objectives:
Implementing change in the federal government is akin to changing the course of an aircraft carrierbecause of its immense momentum, three miles are required to turn the vessel. But the General Accounting Office (GAO) says that because of these legislative initiatives, change is indeed afoot, slowly perhaps but nonetheless surely. This federal model, along with lessons learned about the laws implementation, allows us now to propose some very useful legislation.
Fiscal Performance Accountability
The passage this year of Assembly Bill 255improving reportingand Senate Bill 550creating a division of internal audit reporting for state government in the Nevada Department of Administrationare laudable accomplishments for the legislature and for Governor Guinn. Like their federal counterpart, the Federal Financial Management Improvement Act, these new laws go a long way toward establishing rigorous reporting requirements. They also mandate that government financial management practices conform to an agreed-upon set of uniform standards and procedures.
Both bills, however, need to be strengthened in three areas: strategic planning, accountability for fiscal performance and inter-agency coordination. Moreover, as with pre-existing Nevada law, they leave the burden of financial management and accountability squarely at the door of the department or agency chiefas if he or she doesnt have enough to do.
Therefore, during the next legislative session, a Nevada Financial Accountability Act (NFAA) should be enacted to do the following:
Agency Outcome Accountability
Theres an old adage: "If you dont know where you are heading, you wont like where you end up."
By and large, organizational lethargy and waste result when leadership fails to provide meaningful strategic vision and a sense of mission. The absence of specific accountability with substantive rewards and consequences for performance compounds the problem. Add in the legendary tendencies in government culture to encourage risk avoidance and discourage innovation, and waste and vacuous results are guaranteed.
Performance accountability is precisely the tonic required to ensure effective results. Yet, as mentioned earlier, performance must be measured in relation to some standards. Thus the need for a plan. And as the governor has noted, there is a need in Nevada state government for strategic planing. But before specific legislation is crafted in this regard, we need to consider the actual, on-the-ground utility of strategic planning.
As I tour the country teaching government reform workshops, the subject of strategic planning is often addressed. Frequently I ask the students in my classes how many of them have ever been involved in writing a strategic plan. Many hands go up. I then ask how many have ever seen a strategic plan successfully implemented, or even seen one describe something that even resembles their organization. Rarely do I get raised handsusually I get cynical giggles. Such also was my own experience in 15 years of federal civil service.
In his book The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning professor Henry Mintzberg of McGill University in Montreal eloquently explains that in the direct sense, strategic planning is neither strategic nor planning. That is, it has little to do with forming successful strategies and rarely produces useful plans. Mintzberg mocks strategic planning as "a planning process designed or supported by planners, to plan in order to produce plans." The whole phenomenon might be called a self-licking ice cream cone.
Though strategic planning is supposed to produce a document to guide an organizations destiny, the real successful outcomes are actually syntheses of deliberate strategies and emergent strategies. The latter come from anywhere within the organization, not from a "plans shop," and allow the inevitable unforeseen obstacles to be overcome "on the fly."
Since real approaches are crafted by people involved in the thick of battle as they guide events toward performance-based goals in support of some mission or vision, strategic plans are actually obsolete right at their inception.
In Mintzbergs view, strategic planning should be properly viewed as the formalizing and synthesizing of deliberate and emergent strategies. In other words, the strategic plan document should be used to communicate the organizations mission, vision and crafted strategies. It should also program those strategies into resources, budgets, goals and performance metrics.
It is this clarified understanding of strategic planning that will allow us to implement effective agency outcome accountability. During the next session of the legislature, the Nevada Performance and Results Act (NPRA) should be enacted to do the following:
A Man, A Plan
This series of articles over these last three months was presented to show how our governor and reform-minded legislators can revolutionize state business practices to secure the fiscal integrity of Nevada for generations to come. To implement most of these ideasin whatever form they wind upwill be a challenge, as many interests will vie for dominance. Any change in bureaucracyespecially in a declining budget environment where agency missions are, however, expandingsets up pain, confusion, and downright chaos. Yet if done skillfully, it is a controlled chaoswillfully induced and then utilized. In my experience in the federal bureaucracy Ive seen that it often is necessary to set up the shock of change to awaken the beast from its slumber. Then, in that jungle of chaos, the one with a plan is king. People ultimately will clear a pathway for the one who knows where he or she wants to go and has sufficient conviction and determination to get there. NJ
Robert C. Tauber (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a government reform expert and consultant. He lives in Las Vegas.