A Future Beyond the End of Government

By Stephen Barr
Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Fifty years from now, the federal government will be smaller and many of the huge federal buildings in Washington will be empty of bureaucrats, perhaps replaced by parks and movie theaters.

Elaine C. Kamarck, a veteran of the Clinton administration, offers this vision in a new book, "The End of Government . . . As We Know It: Making Public Policy Work." Kamarck doesn't believe a smaller bureaucracy means that government is dead. But, she says, "the postbureaucratic state" will require policymakers to embrace new ways of thinking for the 21st century.

"If we are conscious about what is happening to government, we can make it happen better," writes Kamarck, who lectures on public policy at Harvard. "If we are not, we can proceed to waste a great deal of money and fail a great many people."

Kamarck's book argues that the White House and the Congress will need to find a new way of governing in an era that will be shaped by global terrorism, emerging economic competition from China and India and an aging U.S. population.

Kamarck served in the Clinton administration from 1993 to 1997 as a senior policy adviser and helped oversee the "reinventing government" project launched by Vice President Al Gore. After leaving the administration, she joined Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

Today's government is a "hodgepodge" that includes old-fashioned bureaucracies, public-private partnerships and outsourcing initiatives, Kamarck writes. But the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks reordered many federal priorities and, along with Hurricane Katrina, underscored why policymakers need to rethink their approaches to government, she says.

Going forward, policymakers need to better match their goals to appropriate implementation strategies, Kamarck says. The models include:

· Reinvented government, where agencies operate without some of the traditional trappings of bureaucracy and use performance measures to track programs and services. This approach seems suited for routine functions, such as determining eligibility for benefits, or a high level of security, such as airport passenger and baggage screening.

· Government by network, where agencies provide funding to universities, laboratories, nonprofit and for-profit organizations to do the work that the government wants done. This approach serves policies that require innovation, such as developing weapons for the Cold War or collecting intelligence on terrorism.

· Government by market, where the government uses state power to create a market that fulfills a public purpose. This approach involves few, if any, federal employees and little or no public money and typically involves a policy aimed at changing the way millions of citizens behave, such as creating an incentive for people to stop driving gas-guzzling cars.

The problem is figuring out how to hold agencies, outside partners and contractors accountable for their actions, Kamarck writes. A scandal in one part of a network can doom the entire network, she warns, just as creating markets provides opportunities to game the new systems.

Although many agencies have set goals and try to measure their progress, Kamarck writes, "performance measures do not guarantee good performance." As an example, she points out that the Federal Emergency Management Agency got "relatively decent marks" from the Office of Management and Budget in the year before FEMA faltered in New Orleans.

A smaller government operating in an increasingly complex world means that federal agencies will need better paid and better educated leadership, she writes.

"If the government is to remain an effective force, people need to be able to make nearly as much money in the public sector as in the private sector. Each of the new forms of government requires a sophisticated package of skills and a broad education -- the kinds of skills and backgrounds often found among leaders of industry," Kamarck writes.

"Western democracies are fooling themselves if they think they can manage into the next century without addressing the wage gap at the top between the public and private sectors," she writes.

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