Too Hard, Too Risky, and Too Important

As the current crisis unfolds, we have seen a number of articles and feature stories on public policy and governing websites conveying this same storyline and message:  The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed serious flaws in vital programs and systems which existed long before the virus showed up.   But in crisis comes opportunity.   Improvements in government service delivery that used to take years are now being accomplished in days.  The coronavirus crisis has demonstrated that permanent transformation is possible.  We need take this opportunity to permanently transform and strengthen our services, transactions and regulatory systems.

It may seem odd to devote this issue of Fiscal Focus to the topics we did given everything going on right now.   But the foundation on which to “permanently transform and strengthen our services, transactions and regulatory systems” is the human capital system itself.  That it takes a crisis like this to prompt innovation and government productivity is indicative of the problem.  

Almost a decade ago, at our Annual Meeting of Members, we invited Marty Manley to be our luncheon speaker to talk about transforming government service delivery and the challenges public sector workforce issues present in improving government productivity.  What made Manley an ideal person to present on this topic was his truly one-of-a-kind professional background and experience: former labor union organizer and union executive, business CEO, and Assistant Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration charged with workforce innovation.   Our summary of his remarks can be found here.    His message and recommendations revolved around two ideas: 1) productivity improvement in government is an absolute imperative, not an option; and 2) both government and public sector unions really need to step up their game.

As the demand for both the quantity and quality of a government public services increases, the more ruthless and aggressive government must be in pursuing innovation and implementing efficiency and productivity improvements.  Otherwise, costs explode, taxes increase, and the state business climate deteriorates.    As the National Academy of Public Administration states, “There is no time to lose.  We need to act today, quickly and creatively, to build the government workforce we will need in the years to come.”