chapter  6
Lessons for institutional change
Pages 20

This book challenges fundamental assumptions of control and coordination inherent in US federal policies and practice. In addition to assembling numerous justifications for this critique, I created a framework for analysis of relationships, the Kaleidic Hyperstructure (KH), which modeled the government as a complex system and its organizational components as ideal types. Using a comparative static method to compare institutional rules and behaviors, I tested the hypothesis that flexibility to allocate resources, when combined with accountability for results, would improve real control and coordination and, therefore, policy implementation and effectiveness. Finally, I demonstrated utility of the KH model for understanding structural change by applying it to a major reorganization of federal agencies. In this chapter, I will summarize findings with the objective of clarifying the need for a different model of the federal government and how a better model can lead to counterintuitive – but more effective – policies and practice. Performance information, which in the last decade has become not just plentiful but more organized and relevant to programs’ influence on outcomes, has not been used as intended by GPRA because it has remained virtually disconnected from funding decisions. Use of GPRA and PART data has been very limited in the executive budget process and nonexistent in Congressional appropriations. The “dirty little secret” in Washington, DC is that major decisions are all about who gets to spend the money. The KH model employs this simple truth to illustrate why control and coordination of activities are not focused on results as defined by performance goals. The proposed solution is to grant agencies more authority over marginal resource allocation as an incentive to abandon strategies that cannot demonstrate results and invest in those that can. Voters are tired of partisan bickering (Zogby 2008). Yet the major parties continue to devote a tremendous fraction of their time and effort to securing dominance in one or both Houses of Congress and to winning the White House. This polarized approach carries over, of course, into specific legislative proposals and the negotiations that ensue – which rarely consider effects on program performance measures. Predictably, the result is a compromise in which specific provisions that made it into the enacted bill are “scalps” that the warriors can wave before their supporters. Agencies are forced to take seriously these detailed

instructions that were bargained, not planned, and therefore address neither implementation processes nor clear definitions of success. Adjustments take years. On the inside, the bureaucrats become cynical, even as they find a way to document progress by some measure. Party loyalists move on to the next battle, while voters who weren’t in on the bargain wonder what was really accomplished. Real control of the federal system would forge links between organizations’ related objectives that explicitly recognize necessary coordination of activities. Plans would be determined jointly in the process of implementation and continuously adjusted to reflect new knowledge and circumstances. They must, of course, develop measures of which means contribute to the ends prescribed by policy makers. GPRA, PART, and the PMA improved accountability; however, they did little for the system as a policy implementation and feedback mechanism. This finding was explained in part by the KH hypothetical scenarios and supported by documentation and observations of DHS ratings and behaviors. What’s missing is an institutional incentive (and authority) to prioritize, compromise, and take risks aimed toward improving results – which suggests examination of budgeting practices. The hypothetical model indicates marginal authority (5 percent) at the agency head level, in combination with reasonable assessments of program effectiveness, could improve control and coordination, which are defined as subjective valuations of different types of network relationships. Higher valuation of these connections implies greater willingness to invest in joint programmatic strategies and, presumably, openness to renegotiate terms as new knowledge indicates what is working and what isn’t. The next section elaborates on the nature of the federal system and implications for students and practitioners. The second contrasts governance of complex systems with traditional command/control methods, and the third describes what a new (truly complex) order would look like. The conclusion follows.