Monday, April 27, 2009

The More Things Change...

In reading Drucker's The Effective Executive, I stumbled across the following prescient concept:

Every organization is highly susceptible to these twin diseases. But they are particularly prevalent in government. Government programs and activities age just as fast as the programs and activities of other institutions. Yet they are not only conceived as eternal; they are welded into the structure through civil service rules and immediately become vested interests, with their own spokesmen in the legislature.

This was not too dangerous when government was small and played a minor role in social life as it did up until 1914. Today's government however cannot afford the diversion of its energies and resources into yesterday. Yet, as a guess, at least half the bureaus and agencies of the federal government of the United States either regulate what no longer needs regulation - for example, the Interstate Commerce Commission whose main efforts are still directed toward protecting the public from a monopoly of the railroads that disappeared thirty years ago. Or they are directed, as is most of the farm program, toward investment in politicians' egos and toward efforts that should have had results but never achieved them.

There is serious need for a new principle of effective administration under which every act, every agency, and every program of government is conceived as temporary and as expiring automatically after a fixed number of years - maybe ten - unless specifically prolonged by new legislation following careful outside study of the program, its results and its contributions.

President Johnson in 1965 - 1966 ordered such a study for all government agencies and their programs, adapting the "program review" which Secretary McNamara had developed to rid the Defense department of the barnacles of obsolete and unproductive work. This is a good first step, and badly needed. But it will not produce results as long as we maintain the traditional assumption that all programs last forever unless proven to have outlived their usefulness. The assumption should rather be that all programs outlive their usefulness fast and should be scrapped unless proven productive and necessary. Otherwise, modern government, while increasingly smothering society under rules, regulations, and forms, will itself be smothered in its own fat.

Hear, hear. Too bad no one (save one) in government has been listening in the forty-odd years since Drucker first wrote this.

The exception? President Reagan:

Government is not the solution to our problem: Government is the problem.

P.S. When will Obama heed this wisdom?

When will pigs fly?


Solameanie said...

I left this note at your other blog to be sure you saw it. You should check out this post and meta over at Dan Phillips' blog. It's a hoot.


wordsmith said...

Thanks for the heads up. I've made appropriate comments. I actually have a draft post on hackneyed vocabulary that I've never gotten around to finishing - kind of similar, but different. Maybe one of these days.....