Political leaders rarely campaign for office on a platform of government effectiveness. In many cases, tackling the bureaucracy is perceived as high risk and low reward compared with passing new laws in the legislature. Yet few succeed without achieving some reform. Many departing presidents, prime ministers, and cabinet secretaries reflect on how the engine of government itself was at the very heart of their successes or failures.
What it takes
Those that have achieved sustainable and significantly higher levels of government performance did so by explicitly designing and executing multiyear reforms that push beyond everyday initiatives designed to improve management capability.
McKinsey recently published a report – “Government designed for new times” in which they identify 40 such programs that have been enacted around the world in the past two decades. There were a number of objectives these programs were designed to achieve: significant fiscal consolidation, better outcomes across multiple public services, and economic growth. Here is a map of programs in a selected number of countries that McKinsey has put together:
How much control should political leaders have over government effectiveness?
The intense pressure for reform makes innovation a critical capability. In many areas, government agencies around the world are redesigning how services are delivered (for example, through one-stop shops and e-portals) by providing greater data availability and through mobile services that allow citizens to get instant help and support. McKinsey shows that Governments that are willing to reform and build such capabilities are better able to achieve major breakthroughs in the most fundamental policy areas, even in the absence of new policy or legislation.
I would raise a question mark whether such a discussion should take place from the very beginning. Should government agencies look at themselves for making their services more efficient or should this fall under political control? Let’s consider that, regardless of the fiscal policy, efficiency of the fiscal agencies should follow a consistent improvement track so the question is: should its efficiency be influenced by the policy itself?