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Commentary: Government reform must start at White House

By G. Edward DeSeve 'Do the Right Things Well" may sound like a campaign promise. In reality, it should be a major initiative designed to streamline government, save taxpayer dollars, and improve public satisfaction with the way government works.

By G. Edward DeSeve

'Do the Right Things Well" may sound like a campaign promise. In reality, it should be a major initiative designed to streamline government, save taxpayer dollars, and improve public satisfaction with the way government works.

From my perspective of almost 50 years in and around government, the new administration needs to scrutinize federal government programs and regulations to determine what is needed and how to provide service to the American public in the most effective, efficient way.

With trust in government at all-time lows, a major initiative of the new administration should be launched to:

Eliminate unneeded programs and wasteful processes;

Meet standards of performance focusing federal efforts on the highest priority outcomes; and

Measure improvement in public trust and customer satisfaction to inform ongoing reform.

This effort needs to come from the top. Implementation of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 succeeded because the president and vice president made it a priority. The vice president should be chosen to lead this effort with the full support of White House.

The whole team needs to be on board. Every cabinet department and executive agency needs to participate. Each should appoint a single responsible official - typically the deputy secretary for cabinet agencies - to lead the effort and be accountable for its results.

Following the "regular order" offers powerful levers for action. The budget and strategic planning processes, changes in regulations and presidential executive orders should all be used to advance the effort.

A formal change management process needs to be followed. This process should be actively used in program execution and in changing the culture of organizations.

There should be clear measures of success that the American people care about. These should include the number of programs eliminated or streamlined, the budgetary savings, personnel reductions, program performance, and satisfaction of customers and the public.

How do we know what "the right things" are?

First, review all of the reports and surveys available, including those customers, watchdogs, and the public. Use a form of crowd sourcing to identify poorly functioning or irrelevant programs or regulations.

Second, talk to federal executives about what they would jettison or reform. Engaging with career agency personnel can help to identify programs that are not effective.

Third, study the evidence. On March 30, President Obama signed the Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act of 2016. The results of the commission's work will be available in 2017 and the use of evidence of what is or is not working is essential to improve government performance.

Fourth, senior administration officials should engage Congress in a discussion about which programs could be eliminated or improved and determine regulatory, statutory, or administrative actions that need to be taken.

How do we know if we are doing the right things well?

In examining programs and regulations, performance data will come to the fore. This data can be measured against standards inside and outside of government to determine if customers and the public are satisfied with the service they are receiving. Benchmarking against standard measures of efficiency will reveal if a process is taking too long or costing too much.

Who should do this?

The effort should be a collaborative one, led by federal agencies themselves with the assistance of the vice president and a small central staff located in the White House. Agencies should reach out for assistance to customers, stakeholders, other levels of government, nonprofits, members of the private sector, and other relevant actors.

When should this be done?

This effort should be launched no later than President Trump's first State of the Union Address and completed before the end of his first term. Success of the effort should be a cornerstone of the president's campaign for reelection.

With the contentious election of 2016 behind us, the American public wants to see the federal government get to work on their behalf. Regardless of their political leanings, Americans want to see effective use of their taxpayer dollars and know that the right things are being done, and done well.

Now is the time to put this type of good-government initiative into effect.

G. Edward DeSeve, author of "The Presidential Appointee's Handbook," is co-chairman of the Transition 2016 initiative, launched by the National Academy of Public Administration, and an executive in residence at Brookings Executive Education.