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Posted on Jan 13, 2012 | 7 Comments

Good luck.

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:

  1. Start requiring “clear and specific goals for every government agency and for each program and project within each agency.”
  2. Have each agency “establish priorities within its targeted objectives, so that it can concentrate its effort.”
  3. 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? 


  1. Greg Zerovnik
    January 13, 2012

    Put all the Cabinet departments onto zero-based budgeting with no roll-overs allowed, with the exception of Defense.

  2. Laurie Dart-Schnaufer
    January 14, 2012

    The elitists cultural is so embedded not much is going to change unless Obama or someone can step up and set an example of change. When everyone is only worry about themselves, their personal agendas and willing to continue to steal, bribe and cheat to get what they want, change is unlikely to happen. Government, Congress and Corporations act more and more like socialists and the rights of Americans are dwindling every day. Over the last twenty years there has been the Dumbing down of Americans, encouraging entitlements and suppression of citizens involvement in government for real change. This is not the America I grew up in, Starting with budgets is a joke. They will just spend more money trying to change things. Government needs to remember who they work for and stop acting like we work for them. It has gotten to big, out of control and until everyone can come together and stop paying taxes, stop donating money to campaigns and demanding more from our legislatures, it seems hopeless. God bless our grandchildren and great grandchildren.

  3. Mike Grayson
    January 14, 2012

    Rolling a bunch of smaller, ineffective, government bureaucracies into one big, ineffective, bureaucracy is foolishness of the highest magnitude. With all due respect, this is another bad decision by our President and his Administration.

    The reason a government agency is supposed to exist, is to serve a segment of the public, its customers. The strategy for reorganization is quite simple, first, identify the customer and what do they value, the challenge is in the execution.

    Drucker laid out the strategy in “The Five Most Important Questions”:
    1. What is our mission?
    2. Who is our customer?
    3. What does the customer value?
    4. What are our results?
    5. What is our plan?

    Some agencies have to be re-examined to determine if their mission is even relevent. The mission of the Department of Energy, when it was formed after the oil embargo of the 1970′s, was to “Reduce the dependence of the United States on foreign oil”. Since the 1970′s, the Department of Energy has failed miserably to accomplish their mission. Their customers are those who produce energy in the U.S., and those who are in the business of conserving energy. They should be on the side of U.S. energy producers and conservation, but they are often against them, or have little or no impact. It is clear that the Department of Energy has been a complete and utter failure.

    Some agencies should ask whether or not they are even capable of making decisions and achieving results at the federal level. When the Social Security bill was first written, it was 64 pages long. Its’ mission was “To alleviate the hazards of old age, unemployment, illness, and dependency”. The role of the federal government was only to collect the revenue. Each individual who contributed to the plan through a payroll tax was supposed to have a portion held on their behalf, in trust, to provide assistance in their old age. Another portion would be used to provide assistance to others. The customer was every working American citizen, and everyone who was disabled and unable to work.

    The Social Security has long since forgotten its mission and who its customers are and what they value. It became a piggy bank for greedy politicians, starting with Lyndon Johnson, and in some weird way, the politicians seem to think that the government, itself, is the customer and recipient of money collected through Social Security. Johnson’s Great Society was really a Tragic Society that failed to recognize that the citizen was the customer, and should be the benefactor, of a well run government.

    Peter Drucker had, and has, the answers. All of the problems in the entire world, whether they be economic or social, can be solved through better and more systematic management. It is unfortunate indeed, that his great wisdom is rarely, if ever, applied to government.

  4. Mike Harmanos
    January 14, 2012

    It is somewhat ironic that this topic is in vogue just after the death of Roy Ash. Ash was a successful businessman at Litton Industries and worked with President Nixon on reorganizing government with a performance-based Office of Management and Budget (OMB), one agency for solving pollution problems (the EPA), and 7 or 8 “Super-Secretaries”. This was the last semi-successful plan for reorganization: we have and OMB and an EPA which have mixed results. We never did get the Super-Secretaries, though.

    In “Post-Capitalist Society”, Chapter 8, Peter Drucker had laid out “the Needed Government Turnaround.” He was right, of course, when this book was written 20 years ago. Governments are powerless to stop special interests. The fashion of “anti-government”, “cutting back government”, and “fighting the insiders” hasn’t worked, either. In fact, that attitude has been a miserable failure.

    Professor Drucker’s three steps to any organization’s turnaround are:
    1. Abandonment of the things that do not work (Now easier than ever in the Internet age)
    2. Concentration on the things that do work (Good luck hearing this from any politician no matter his/her jurisdiction)
    3. Analysis of the half-successes and half-failures (See above comment)

    The 20 year old argument for stamping out private armies is especially chilling in the age of al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab, and the return of piracy on the high seas.

  5. dave howell
    January 14, 2012

    Reduce the Cabinet to 12, and reduce the Federal Govt to no more than 10 departments. Eliminate some, combine some, and drastically cut workfoce over 10 years optimizing attrition and retirement.

    Reduce the mangement and leadership layer unitl the “tooth to tail” ratio is 10 workers to each manager and 10 managers per director and at least 3- 5 directors for top level SES.

    Find senior leaders who can and will revisit regulation and scrub it to eliminate much of it and defer to the states what each department can.

    Dave Howell

  6. Alba Patricia Valencia
    January 16, 2012

    I would like to change the economic and political model and second, we must adapt and couple to new ideas and concepts.

    Me gustaría cambiar el modelo económico y político y segundo, adaptación y acoplamiento a los nuevos modelos.

  7. The Feedback | The Drucker Exchange
    January 25, 2012

    [...] in springing off the news that President Obama wants to streamline the federal government, we invited our readers to give suggestions for reorganizing what many see a sector plagued by mediocre [...]


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