By Don Simpson, VP
In 1993, the Clinton Administration quickly made it clear it wanted streamlined and more effective government. I recall as part of the Clinton Reinventing Government episode the entire BLM Washington Office was reorganized into teams and groups. The group leader supervised several teams but the team leads had no supervisory responsibilities. The latest management theory was a strong team effort would raise all employees to a high level of performance. It proved to be the opposite, the underperformer got away with doing nothing and the team lead couldn’t do anything about it. In addition, the supervisor of the group had so many employees they did not have the time to deal with problem employees.
The other issue it created was a lack of accountability as teams did what they wanted. This type of organization provided limited support to the field as the team’s had little accountability to the Directorate. Consistency in the Bureau began to unravel. When this alignment collapsed, restoring organizational structure and populating the new organization took time. The organization lost at least two years of any productive policy or procedural development.
Prior to “Reinventing Government”, the Bureau went through a downsizing effort. The goal was to reduce the number of headquarters employees. There was no strategic effort given to deciding which positions met the needs of the headquarters and which were more operational and, therefore, more suited to a field location. Employees volunteered to move west and selected locations they preferred. In the end, many great policy employees went west, employees with little to no field skills went west and in some cases employees that were not skilled at policy development stayed in the Washington Office. Several years of effort and very large amounts of move money went into this effort. It seemed that within 5 years the Washington Office was back to its original head count.
The common theme between past and present efforts here is the lack of a “what’s broken” analysis. It did not feel as though we were trying fix a problem during the downsizing effort. The employees knew that and just did what they were told. If a problem was identified and employees were asked to assist in the resolution, the outcomes would have been different and lasting. The same situation is occurring now so we should not expect different results.
If this administration really wants to speed up processes they should seriously look at eliminating Departmental review of Federal Register publications and streamlining participation and cooperation with other Federal agencies like FWS, EPA, USFS and NPS. Reorganization is a huge drain of fiscal and human resources particularly when no one knows what the problem is that the administration is trying to fix.