When the President asked me in 1993 to lead the reinvention of government, the first thing I did was start talking with front-line federal employees about what was broken and how to fix it. In agency offices and at the National Performance Review (NPR), inspired teams worked day and night through the summer of 1993 generating ideas. They got a lot of help from the best in business, as well as state and local reinventors.
When the work finished, we had 1,200 actions that I recommended to the President. He reviewed them, gave them his endorsement, and made a personal commitment. He said, "Wherever this report says 'the President should,' this President will."
Among the 1,200 recommended actions was a set of imaginative proposals to make government work better and cost less by reengineering through information technology.
The idea of reengineering through technology is critical. We didn't want to automate the old, worn processes of government. Information technology (IT) was and is the great enabler for reinvention. It allows us to rethink, in fundamental ways, how people work and how we serve customers.
The old way of organizing work was patterned on a factory, a hierarchical system. The system has top management, middle management, and workers, who were seen as cogs in a machine, programmed by those at the top of the pyramid to do simple tasks over and over. This approach forfeits the greatest asset of the organization -- the unused brain power, energy, and creativity of the men and women in the organization.
The factory model has outlived its usefulness. Today's computers and communications let us organize to work in a new way. Based on the "distributed intelligence" concept in computing, this new model distributes information and the tools to use that information throughout an organization. Decision-making authority can be placed with employees on the front lines, where change is encountered first.
The 1993 NPR report applied the distributed intelligence model. The recommendations ranged from electronic services for customers to better communications links for employees trying to collect information and work together.
A little over three years later, it is clear that these ideas are living up to their promise. Processes are being reengineered, and they do work better and cost less. But three years later it is just as clear that we can now make even bolder plans.
There are two reasons. First, programs spawned by the original report have been tremendously successful. They warrant an added push, to put them over the top. Even the boldest ideas, like a national Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) system, dramatically simplified tax reporting for business, and one trade data system rather than 40, are within reach.
Second, technology continues to change dramatically. Computing power in a standard PC is 50 times what it was then, and storage capacity is 10 times greater -- both occurred without an increase in cost. Telecommunications costs are down, and the biggest change of all is the explosive use and capacity of the Internet. The federal government is now delivering millions of tax forms on-line, taking requests for retirement estimates, and providing advice to business. But we have just begun to exploit this new tool.
For these two reasons and more, and in a striking demonstration of the new way to work, teams all over government joined to create the recommendations in this report. Taken together, the recommendations here paint a picture of the kind of government we should have as we begin the next century. It will be a government where all Americans have the opportunity to get services electronically and where, aided by technology, the productivity of government operations will be soaring.
In this new government --
- Seniors will provide facts just once to cover Medicare and all pension programs; payment will, of course, be direct to their account, accessed by a single card that they carry in their wallet or purse.
- Police on the street will get electronic fingerprint checks and criminal records while suspects are in the grasp, not weeks later.
- Parents will check environmental conditions around town before picking out a new house.
- Students will make their application for loans, get their answers, and if approved, receive their funds, on-line.
- Communities will seek grants, apply for permits, and file reports electronically.
- Companies seeking export markets for their products will go on-line to a one-stop government shop for export assistance.
- And behind the scenes for all these transactions, the government will be operating an electronic system that, compared to today's paper-based services, improves privacy and security for individuals.
These images are not the half of it. This report is named "Access America" because it calls for service improvements that will affect all Americans. It doesn't just propose electronic services, it calls for new ways to bring electronic options to all who want them, including those in underserved and rural areas. For each of the actions proposed, we are also mindful of the work that must be done to ensure that technology solutions are truly accessible to individuals with disabilities.
The President and I are just as committed to carrying out the recommendations in this report as we were to the original set. Our commitment is supported not just by better technology, but also by better management.
The Information Technology Management Reform Act of 1996, signed by the President, plus the President's order on Federal Information Technology, and guidance from the Office of Management and Budget have everyone in government thinking in new ways about how to manage IT. The Government Information Technology Services (GITS) Board and its system of champions will promote every idea. The Chief Information Officers (CIOs) at each agency and their new council, established to improve delivery of IT, will provide the leadership for the hard work of carrying out these recommendations agency by agency. As a council, they will take the lead on several governmentwide initiatives.
We are now working with a better procurement system as well. Many of the new hardware and software components we want to use can be purchased off the shelf, and we are using the past performance of vendors to make smarter choices.
This report does not contemplate increases to the President's budget. Indeed, done well, these projects will be a source of savings. The taxpayer error rates for TeleFile tax returns by phone are a fraction of those for paper returns -- less follow-up, less cost. Dozens of law enforcement and public safety communications antennas now in rented space atop the World Trade Center in New York could be replaced with two, and one will be back-up. Reengineering means not just new technology and streamlined processes, it means shifting existing money from old to new ways. The job is to manage those resources and make investments so that these projects can begin to pay off.
The underlying technologies in these recommendations are today's technologies. Tomorrow is certain to bring new, more powerful tools. We can plan on continuing improvement.
We can also expect this report to be a catalyst for more ideas that can fill in and enrich the picture of access for all Americans. I'm asking the GITS Board and the CIO Council to be active proponents for these new ideas and proposals. Those groups should lead us to an ever improving government that will serve America as never before.