At the start of any new year, it's good to think big and look to the future. But especially now.

Let's face it. Hurricane Katrina swamped the government and reinforced images of poor leadership and bureaucracy unable to quickly respond at a critical moment.

"We were confronted with the implications of the 9/11 terrorist attacks," Donald F. Kettl, a University of Pennsylvania professor, said of the Gulf Coast hurricane. "We've gone through four years of calisthenics and then Katrina hits and most of the lessons we learned from 9/11 come back to bite us again."

Kettl is the director of the Fels Institute of Government at Penn and has studied the Clinton-Gore "reinventing government" initiative and the Bush "management agenda," both aimed at improving the government's internal operations. Numerous federal employees are skeptical that such efforts produce lasting good, and some see them as geared more toward political than substantive goals.

But Kettl believes that future administrations will want to shake up federal management, too, and contends that the focus should be on finding smarter methods to address Katrina-like events, which require nimble responses and solutions based on communication and information.

In a report scheduled for release this week, "The Next Government of the United States: Challenges for Performance in the 21st Century," Kettl argues that the government can expect to see more "non-routine" events that cannot be neatly handled by a single agency or program.

His list of the non-routine includes hurricanes that cross jurisdictional lines, terrorist threats, global flu pandemics, Medicaid services in nursing homes and programs identified by the Government Accountability Office as being at high risk of waste, fraud and abuse.

"The central issue," Kettl said in a telephone interview, "is how to enable government to respond adequately and competently to problems that won't go away, that desperately need solutions, but where no one organization can manage or control them."

Kettl's report, sponsored by the IBM Center for the Business of Government (http://www.businessofgovernment.org), makes the case that the government's most important problems "refuse to stay within the boundaries of the government agencies established to solve them."

Hierarchical organizations in particular struggle in such an environment, Kettl writes, and he points to the recently created Department of Homeland Security as an example of an agency that is having trouble finding its footing.

The next president, Kettl suggests, should think about reconfiguring the federal establishment -- "to shift the boundaries of who does what and, even more important, how its work gets done."

That means government has to be more sophisticated in managing relations with many organizations -- at all levels of government and among government, corporations and nonprofits, according to Kettl. In many instances, the government's role will be as a coordinator, to manage by "finding leverage over this vast and complex network," Kettl writes.

Political appointees, federal executives and managers will need to take new approaches to their work and champion solutions based on communication and information, he believes.

People who possess information will have great power and "might well not be those who have authority in the hierarchy, so there is great potential for internal organizational conflict if information-based power wins out," he points out.

Finding solutions to problems that splash across the jurisdictions of two or more agencies will require innovation, Kettl writes. But he notes, "Large formal organizations frequently create cultures that make it hard for innovative managers to thrive."

In addition, fixing responsibility for solving problems might not be easy or clear, especially when "local issues have increasingly become global, and global issues increasingly demand a local response," Kettl warns.

IBM's Albert Moralesand Mark A. Abramsonwrite in the report's foreword that they plan more research on management challenges that might face the next administration. One question that they'll be asking: "What happens next?"

E-mail: barrs@washpost.com