John Mecklin of Miller-McCune was inspired (in part by a vexing visit to his local Social Security office) to zero in on ways the federal government could become more efficient. He highlights a plan by which government could save $1 trillion or more by using high-tech infrastructure solutions that have already saved billions in the private sector. The recommendations come from an October 2010 report by the Technology CEO Council that mentions seven areas in which the federal government could consolidate services among agencies, offer more services online, improve supply chains, and standardize computer software, all steps that would save major money.
As Congress, including the new GOP majority in the House, looks for ways to cut budgets and reduce the deficit, Mecklin says, it should
go beyond these specific recommendations to investigate and then institute programs that bring the full innovative power of the digital technology revolution directly to bear across the government. It’s a revolution that has remade the private sector . . . but has only been fitfully adopted by slow-moving federal agencies that fear its power . . .
Federal agencies and employees are likely to resist consolidations, sensible cost-cutting, and innovations not because they are inherently evil, but because “their supervisors have lived their professional lives in a culture that views itself as self-contained and immune from oversight or fundamental change.” It’s a fair criticism. And it shows how tough the battle to make government more efficient will be. People don’t like to lose their jobs, and the kind of reforms Mecklin analyzes mean tens and even hundreds of thousands of government employees could lose their jobs. Imagine if the government — across the board — embraced “just-in-time” inventory management or aggressively looked at selling off “underperforming assets” in its massive real estate holdings. It would be a real shakeup, and not fun for anyone — public employees and legislators alike.
Mecklin compares the effects of a high-tech revolution in government to the changes in the world of media in the last generation, which he calls “often frightening and cruel,” adding that “as they’re happening, layoffs never feel particularly creative.” This is one area where an understanding government (pardon the pun) could help government employees. If part of the projected savings could be devoted to early retirement packages and retraining initiatives, the new revolution in government could be seen as a sacrifice in the country’s interest while also acknowledging the real contribution that so many government employees have made over the years.