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Senate Testimony: Now is the Time for Federal Public Service Reform

Paul C. Light, vice president and director of the Governmental Studies program at the Brookings Institution and senior adviser to the new National Commission on the Public Service, testified today before the Senate Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on International Security, Proliferation, and Federal Services, telling panel members of the critical need for federal public service reform.

“Merely tinkering at the edges of reform will not restore the public service to good health,” stated Light. “The federal government will continue to weaken unless a major repair effort is undertaken.”

Light testified on the second day of hearings titled “The Federal Workforce: Legislative Proposals for Change.” He characterized many aspects of the federal public service — including its systems of recruitment and retention — as inadequate and obsolete, emphasizing the need for substantial reform.

Light was invited to testify on behalf of the second National Commission on the Public Service and its Chairman, Paul Volcker. The Commission was convened by the Brookings Institution’s Center for Public Service in February 2002, nearly twelve years to the day after the first Volcker Commission issued a report declaring a “quiet crisis” in the federal public service.

“The new Volcker Commission was born of the realization that what the first Volcker Commission termed “the quiet crisis” had become a roar,” said Light. The events of September 11 “put a large exclamation point on the need to address the problems” of the federal public service.s

Light outlined the proposed research and reform agenda of the Volcker Commission. During its twelve-month term, the Commission will focus on the need for comprehensive reform in the federal public service. A sampling of issues before the Commission includes: the aging of the federal workforce; barriers to recruitment and retention; existing systems of discipline and incentive; trust in government; and outsourcing.

“We have spent too much time these past ten years inventing ways to deny the problem, even as we eviscerated government through a random downsizing, ill-considered outsourcing, and an unrelenting attack on the human capital infrastructure,” stated Light.

Light testified before the Senate Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on International Security, Proliferation and Federal Services which is considering S. 1800, the Homeland Security Federal Workforce Act, introduced by Senators Akaka, Durbin, and Thompson; S. 1603, the Federal Human Capital Act of 2001, introduced by Senator Voinovich; and the Bush administration’s human capital proposals included in S. 1612.

Light stated: “While the Commission is not yet ready to endorse specific legislative proposals, it believes that the pending legislation addresses pressing problems and that these first steps should move forward with the Commission’s broad blessing.”

ABOUT THE VOLCKER COMMISSION: The Volcker Commission is headquartered at the Brookings Institution as a project of the Center for Public Service. Chaired by former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul A. Volcker, the Commission includes as its members a distinguished bipartisan group of men and women with long experience in the public service.

Commissioners include: Charles Bowsher, former Comptroller General of the U.S.; former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley; Frank Carlucci, former Secretary of Defense under President Reagan; Kenneth M. Duberstein, President Reagan’s Chief of Staff; former Office of Personnel Management Director Constance Horner; former Office of Management and Budget Director Franklin D. Raines; Richard Ravitch, Co-Chairman of the Millennial Housing Commission and former Chairman of the New York State Urban Development Corporation; Robert Rubin, former Secretary of the Treasury under President Clinton; Donna Shalala, Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Clinton administration, and former Representative Vin Weber. Bruce Laingen, Executive Director of the first Volcker Commission, and Michael H. Armacost, President of the Brookings Institution, will serve as ex-officio members. Senior advisers include Paul C. Light, Vice President and Director of Governmental Studies at the Brookings Institution and Director of its Center for Public Service, G. Calvin Mackenzie of Colby College, and James N. Dertouzos of the RAND Corporation.

Commissioners include: Charles Bowsher, former Comptroller General of the U.S.; former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley; Frank Carlucci, former Secretary of Defense under President Reagan; Kenneth M. Duberstein, President Reagan’s Chief of Staff; former Office of Personnel Management Director Constance Horner; former Office of Management and Budget Director Franklin D. Raines; Richard Ravitch, Co-Chairman of the Millennial Housing Commission and former Chairman of the New York State Urban Development Corporation; Robert Rubin, former Secretary of the Treasury under President Clinton; Donna Shalala, Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Clinton administration, and former Representative Vin Weber. Bruce Laingen, Executive Director of the first Volcker Commission, and Michael H. Armacost, President of the Brookings Institution, will serve as ex-officio members. Senior advisers include Paul C. Light, Vice President and Director of Governmental Studies at the Brookings Institution and Director of its Center for Public Service, G. Calvin Mackenzie of Colby College, and James N. Dertouzos of the RAND Corporation.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For a complete version of Paul Light’s testimony, go to the Brookings website, www.brookings.edu/testimony/light/20020319.htm. For interview requests with Paul Light, contact Gina Russo at 202/797-6405 or grusso@brookings.edu.

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The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit organization devoted to independent research and policy solutions. Its mission is to conduct high-quality, independent research and, based on that research, to provide innovative, practical recommendations for policymakers and the public.

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