Jonathan Breul

Jonathan Breul, executive director, IBM Center for The Business of Government:

The fiscal pressures on the federal government are unsustainable. At the same time, rising public expectations for results and responsiveness require fundamental transformation of government — where the roles and even continued existence of some organizations and functions are at stake.

Some will say we have heard it before — the need to “do more with less.” But the situation is different this time, and much more difficult. Drastically reducing costs is a major undertaking, not a normal budget-cutting exercise. And, importantly, it presents an opportunity to not just cut programs and discretionary costs, but to demonstrate leadership from within to transform how government does its business.

This will be where federal employees come in. They will be the ones who do the heavy lifting to implement major program adjustments and cutbacks, as well as harness major technological shifts and not just cut costs, but also adopt innovative practices to make government more productive.

A greater focus on results and outcomes can enhance government’s capacity to assess competing claims for budgetary resources by arming decision-makers with better information both on the results of individual programs as well as on entire portfolios of policies and programs, addressing common goals.

While performance information will never resolve the vexing tradeoffs involving political choice, it holds the promise of informing and modifying decisions and resource allocation by shifting the focus of debate from inputs to the program outcomes and results that are crucial to an organization’s success and the nation’s security.

In many respects, identifying sources of savings — whether policy changes or operational improvements — is the easy part. The challenge will be to turn ideas into action. Most important, we know that the proposed operational and process improvements do not just cut costs; they also foster a smarter approach to collaboration, idea sharing and a culture of innovation.

The federal public service needs to pick up the pace, confront the tough problems, not avoid them or leave them for others. This is never easy, but it is what public service demands and leadership requires.

The federal public service must keep the long view and always remember that it serves the public’s long-term interests. Some will serve for a short period; others, for an entire career. But all should dedicate themselves to great goals. They must never take the honor of public service for granted.