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Federal Diary

Uncle Sam Is Advised To Get With the Network

By Stephen Barr
Sunday, November 21, 2004; Page C02

At the Golden Gate National Recreational Area, concessionaires, contractors and volunteers make up 82 percent of the workforce. Federal employees make up the other 18 percent.

In Iraq this year, there is one contractor for every 10 soldiers. That's markedly different from the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when there was one contractor for every 50 soldiers.

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Those snapshots come from Stephen Goldsmith and William D. Eggers, authors of the recently published "Governing by Network: The New Shape of the Public Sector." Their book describes a government that conducts business in increasingly complex ways but has not figured out how to adjust its management and personnel practices.

In appearances before federal agencies and public policy groups, the authors are raising questions about the role of government in the Internet era and how to manage a government that does less itself as it relies more and more on outsiders.

Goldsmith and Eggers served as government reform advisers to President Bush during his 2000 campaign for the White House. Goldsmith directs the Innovations in American Government Program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and is chairman of the Corporation for National and Community Service. Eggers is a director at Deloitte Research, Public Sector, and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.

Both are proponents of injecting private-sector competition into government, but in a recent interview, they contended that politically charged debates over whether government jobs should be kept in-house or turned over to industry are outdated and irrelevant.

The heyday of top-down bureaucracy has faded and a new model, "government by network," has emerged, according to Goldsmith and Eggers. As a result, Goldsmith said, "the solutions to our most important problems . . . can't be solved inside the bureaucracy."

The nation, Eggers said, needs "a whole new, different type of government workforce than we have today because managing these networks of contractors and nonprofits requires a whole different set of skill sets than managing hierarchical government -- and there is very little recognition of that."

Reshaping government workforces has to start at the top, Goldsmith and Eggers say. That means agencies must recruit a cadre of managers who perform traditional duties -- planning, budgeting and deploying staff -- but also are skilled in contract negotiations, contract management, risk analysis and have the ability to tackle unconventional problems.

In their book, Goldsmith and Eggers say the transition to government by network "will have profound and far-reaching effects on the makeup of the public workforce."

The number of civil service jobs "at the lower and middle levels of government will likely drop over time, and responsibilities will change," Goldsmith and Eggers write. "Many less-skilled tasks will be automated; others will be outsourced to the private sector. . . .

"Many middle-management jobs either will become unnecessary as teams replace hierarchies or will be shifted to network partners that assume the role of coordinating people and information."

Despite the magnitude of the transition, the authors contend that it can be accomplished without layoffs or major workplace disruptions, in part because of the large number of baby boomers who will retire from federal service in the next few years -- what Goldsmith called "a once in a century opportunity."

For government to succeed at managing networks, the authors say, it needs to revamp personnel practices so that employees can move from project to project without sacrificing career advancement and can shift back and forth more easily between government and industry. They also recommend that agencies raise the pay for senior positions so that they can better compete for top business and law school graduates.

Goldsmith and Eggers acknowledge that government by network faces an array of challenges, such as sharing risk, curbing contractor abuse and ensuring accountability.

But Eggers said: "If we don't figure out how to manage this kind of a networked government better, we are going to continue to face some problems, and we are not going to have more efficient, more responsive government. I think the stakes are very high and getting higher, and I don't know that enough people realize this."

E-mail: barrs@washpost.com


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