As the nation has debated the devolution of more authority to state governments, for programs ranging from welfare to job training, a central question has arisen: do the states have the capacity to take on the job? Despite the remarkable transformation of public management in the states over the last generation, most have been viewed as “laboratories of democracy,” the proving ground for new ideas, rather than as robust and muscular entities fully capable on their own of tackling the nations big issues.
In the report, John M. Kost argues from his experience in Michigan that the states can be even more responsive and more capable than the federal government in delivering public services. That capacity, he says, rests critically on the task of growing the leadership needed to rethink how government works and to reengineer how it does its job. Kost, more than anything else, makes the case that building capacity depends on finding energetic officials and getting them elected and appointed to lead.
With his case for leadership, Kost moves past the procedural and structural reforms and also demonstrates the remarkably bipartisan nature of public management reform. Democrats and Republicans alike, at all levels of government, have seized on the potential for galvanizing governance to produce better results. Kost inventories basic approaches that belong in every government reformer’s toolbox. He describes the standards, like customer service, privatization, procurement reform, and reengineering. He also explores often-missed issues, like information technology and civil service reform. Finally, he makes a very strong case indeed that these reforms have transformed the operations of Michigan’s state government.