Blair House Papers

Blair House Papers
January 1997

Introduction by Vice President Al Gore

In 1993, President Clinton asked me to figure out how to make government work better and cost less. We called it reinventing government. The need to reinvent was clear. Confidence in government -- which is simply confidence in our own ability to solve problems by working together -- had been plummeting for three decades. We either had to rebuild that faith or abandon the future to chaos.

We had reason to hope we could succeed. Corporate America had reinvented itself to compete and win. The same ideas and some new wrinkles were starting to work at the state and local level. But it was going to be incredibly difficult, the largest turnaround ever, and management experts said it would take at least eight years.

Not quite four years later, my hope of succeeding has grown to confidence. We have thousands of examples of reinvention islands of excellence in every agency delivering better service and saving money. And public confidence in government has rebounded up nearly 9 percent since 1993, according to a recent Roper poll. We are succeeding. We know how to do it.

Everyone in government knows big challenges remain. It is time for faster, bolder action to expand our islands of excellence and reinvent entire agencies -- time to entirely reinvent every department of government.

So, even before the second inauguration, President Clinton and I called the new Cabinet to Blair House to give them their reinvention marching orders. This book contains the instructions we gave the Cabinet in a set of papers on that Saturday, January 11, 1997.

The papers are:

The book divides our papers into three chapters. The first chapter is about how to deliver great service -- treating the public the way top companies treat their customers. Remember, we are trying to restore America's confidence in solving big problems through self-government, problems like drugs and crime and the need for better education. How can people trust government to do big things if we can't do little things like answer the phone promptly and politely?

The second chapter tells how to foster partnership and community solutions. We have to do big things without big government. Luckily, partners are ready to help. Businesses have proven effective partners in achieving a cleaner environment, worker safety, and other regulatory compliance goals. Communities can solve their own problems with a little help and opportunity from their federal partners. And when labor and management work as partners, everybody wins.

The last chapter is about how to reinvent to get the job done with less. The first section there is the most important for top leaders. It describes the key to unlocking the enormous, unused, human potential of the federal workforce. Unlocking that potential will make everything else possible -- it is the only way. The chapter has other tips for surviving in a balanced budget world -- like shifting resources and authority from headquarters to the front lines, and capitalizing on the positive power of competition.

When the President and I gave the papers in this book to Cabinet Secretaries, we also asked each of them to set clear, uplifting goals and make sure everyone understands how the goals relate to their own jobs. We asked the Cabinet to line up their plans, budgets, personnel performance appraisals, and other management systems with their goals, and then to measure the results they seek. This is good advice for the Cabinet and for every leader in government.

Indeed, if you work anywhere in government, there is something in these papers for you. Every supervisor needs to get power to the front lines and raise the spirit of the workforce. Every service provider needs to put customers first. Every regulator needs to use the leverage available through partnerships. Everyone in government needs to know all the rules of the road to reinvention, because we need everyone's push to propel us down that road fast enough.

I told the Cabinet at Blair House that they would know they had succeeded with reinvention when all the people in their departments understood the goals and values of the organization, and could use them to adjust quickly to changing circumstances. I also said how federal employees would recognize success: When they wake up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep right away, they will be thinking about how to do their jobs better.

Where reinvention has taken hold federal employees do that. Their faith in the system has been restored. Applied to every part of government, these ideas can do the same for America.

Not long ago, most Americans believed that we could do practically anything by working together -- defeat communism, go to the moon, you name it. We can have that faith in unity again. We can have the strength of unity again. We need it for the 21st Century.

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