Urgent Business for America

January 1, 2003

Fifty years have passed since the last comprehensive reorganization of the federal government. The changes proposed by The Hoover Commission served the nation well as it adapted to the mid-20th century world. It was a world transformed by World War II and the new responsibilities of the United States government at home and abroad.

It was also a world in which television was still a curiosity, transportation without jets was slow and expensive, typewriters were still manual, and Xerox machines, personal computers, microchips, and the Internet were unknown and beyond imagination.

Medicare and Medicaid did not exist. There were no nuclear power plants and no national highway system. The government organization table contained no EPA, OSHA, NIH, or dozens of other now familiar institutions.

The relationship of the federal government to the citizens it serves became vastly broader and deeper with each passing decade. Social programs are by far the largest component of a federal budget that now amounts to over one-fifth of the gross national product. National security and foreign policy issues, the environment, protection of human rights, health care, the economy, and questions of financial regulation dominate most of the national agenda.

Something less tangible, but alarming, has also happened over the last 50 years. Trust in government— strong after World War II, with the United States assuming international leadership and meeting domestic challenges — has eroded. Government’s responsiveness, its efficiency, and too often its honesty are broadly challenged as we enter a new century. The bonds between our citizens and our public servants, essential to democratic government, are frayed even as the responsibilities of government at home and abroad have increased. Government work ought to be a respected source of pride. All too frequently it is not.

The members of this Commission — Republicans, Democrats, and independents — have joined in a common conviction. The time has come to bring government into the 21st century. We take as a given the Constitutional division of authority among the Legislature, the Judiciary, and the Executive. Our proposals mainly concern the organization of the administrative side, but there are implications for the Congress and for the effectiveness of our courts.

We are a small group, with limited resources. But beyond our own combined experience in government, we have been able to draw upon an enormous amount of research and professional analysis in conducting our work. That evidence points unambiguously toward certain conclusions:

  • Organization: A clear sense of policy direction and clarity of mission is too often lacking, undercutting efficiency and public confidence. As a result, there is real danger of healthy public skepticism giving way to corrosive cynicism.
  •  Leadership: Too many of our most competent career executives and judges are retiring or leaving early. Too few of our most talented citizens are seeking careers in government or accepting political or judicial appointments.
  • Operations: The federal government is not performing nearly as well as it can or should. The difficulties federal workers encounter in just getting their jobs done has led to discouragement and low morale.

Disciplined policy direction, operational flexibility, and clear and high performance standards are the guiding objectives of our proposals. Our report calls for sweeping changes in organizational structure and personnel incentives and practices. Clarification and consolidation of responsibility for policymaking executives, combined with greater delegation of operational functions to agency managers, should be the hallmark of progress. Implementation and effective oversight will require clear-sighted action by the President, the Cabinet, and the Congress.

I have great appreciation for the men and women who agreed to give their attention and knowledge to the mission of this commission. They are people of all political persuasions who have time and again demonstrated their commitment to excellence in government. They came together in the wake of 9/11/01 with a common desire to help our government meet the critical challenges of this new century.

Most of all, the support of a concerned public for bold change is critical. Only then will we be able to rebuild trust in government.

It is our belief that these are matters of consequence to all who are interested in government and its performance.

The members of the Commission commend the report to the attention of the American public and our elected and appointed leaders.