Is that too pessimistic a response to a proposal unveiled today by President Barack Obama to streamline government? Peter Drucker, at least, tended to be skeptical about such efforts.
To be sure, Drucker well understood the challenge of trying to navigate through the machinery of government. “Today a ‘strong’ president or a ‘strong’ prime minister is not a man of strong policies,” Drucker lamented in The Age of Discontinuity. “He is the man who knows how to make the lions of the bureaucracy do his bidding.”
Attempting to tame such lions, at least in part, is why Obama has proposed “merging six agencies that focus on trade and commerce into one new department, following through on a promise he made a year ago,” as The Wall Street Journal reported.
But many others have made similar attempts, with little success. “During his 1976 campaign Jimmy Carter repeatedly promised to streamline the federal government, to amalgamate its agencies and to create such new ‘super agencies’ as a Federal Department of Energy,” Drucker recalled in The Changing World of the Executive. “In this, he simply followed the precedents set by every one of his predecessors since Franklin D. Rooseveltin his 1936 campaign.”
Yes, Washington’s bureaucracy sprawled. “But Mr. Carter’s proposals were unlikely to have any more impact on governmental performance than the proposals of his predecessors,” Drucker wrote. “Reshuffling the organization chart will not make a single agency more effective or perform better.”
On the other hand, Drucker added, any president who “really intends to make government more effective” should take three simple steps first:
- Start requiring “clear and specific goals for every government agency and for each program and project within each agency.”
- Have each agency “establish priorities within its targeted objectives, so that it can concentrate its effort.”
- And implement “the toughest, most novel, but also the most important prerequisite of organizational effectiveness”—namely, “organized abandonment.”
What about you? How would you start to reorganize the federal government?