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Nick Wakeman

'Reinventing government' turns 25

Calendar year 2018 will mark the 25th anniversary of the Clinton administration’s reinventing government initiative.

Bill Clinton was in the first year of his first term in 1993 when he and Vice President Al Gore kicked off a governmentwide management reform program.

Steve Kelman was a Harvard professor at the time and took a leave of absence to become  administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

Gore led the National Performance Review, later known as the National Partnership for Reinventing Government. Congress then passed the Government Performance and Results Act. It was Kelman who put pen to paper to translate "GPRA" into regulations and guidances.

He writes a retrospective on the reinventing government for the latest issue of FCW and on FCW.com.

But this is no dewy-eyed nostalgia piece.

Kelman writes:

"The events of 1993 launched major changes in the procurement system, which has continued to evolve in the past 25 years. In general, that evolution has seen the procurement culture shift its focus from compliance to performance, yet despite that shift, it is hard to say that the system's performance has improved."

That is due in part to the fact that the changes in procurement coincided with an increase in problems for contract management. The system was getting better, but contract management was getting worse -- so much so that we haven't noticed net improvements."

That is one of the many things I admire about Kelman. He tells it like he sees it. And it is hard to argue that he is wrong.

His essay also isn’t a history lesson as much as it is a philosophical discourse on what good acquisition is -- and hence good government.

Kelman likes many things that have happened in the last 25 years such as improvement and quality and price.

He likes agile software development as a tool to get the acquisition of IT systems under control but it is too early to tell if the promise will be delivered.

Plus, he sees promise in category management and the designation of specific contracts for buying those goods.

Kelman also praises the Trump administration for its focus on performance rather than compliance.

He writes in his conclusion:

"It is still early, of course, but there is at least a chance that the years to come will produce the kind of noticeable improvement in the procurement system's performance that many of us had been hoping for in the past 25 years."

Let’s all hope Kelman is right.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Dec 22, 2017 at 11:51 AM

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