Looking Back over My 45 Years of Involvement with Government Reform Efforts

Date01 March 2018
Published date01 March 2018
Looking Back over My 45 Years of Involvement with Government Reform Efforts 305
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 78, Iss. 2, pp. 305–310. © 2018 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12921.
Stephen E. Condrey,
Associate Editor
John M. Kamensky is a senior fellow
with The IBM Center for the Business of
Government. He previously served as deputy
director of Vice President Al Gore s National
Performance Review (later renamed the
National Partnership for Reinventing
Government) and as special assistant to the
deputy director for management at the U.S.
Office of Management and Budget. Before
that, he worked in the U.S. Government
Accountability Office. He is a fellow of the
National Academy of Public Administration.
E-mail: john.kamensky@us.ibm.com
Looking Back over My 45 Years of Involvement with
Government Reform Efforts
Abstract: This Viewpoint presents a typology of options for future government reformers to help guide the design
and implementation of a reform initiative, based on the author s experiences and observations over the past 45 years.
Successful reformers need to be clear up front about what they are attempting to achieve and frame their efforts in
ways that maximize the success and sustainability of the effort. In this article, the author offers a series of questions
and answers to help future reformers choose among various design and implementation options and to help them chart
their paths .
P AR s Viewpoint editor invited me to summarize
lessons on government reform based on my
experience. I was honored by the request,
and the following reflects on reforms in which I ve
participated or observed.
Looking back, nearly my entire professional career has
been spent on some variation of government reform,
starting with a class assignment to propose revisions
to the Texas State Constitution in late 1973. While
everyone else was fixated on Vietnam and Watergate,
I was an outlier. Instead, I was mesmerized by the
dynamics of the Texas Constitutional Convention of
1974, serving as an intern.
The experience was exhilarating, but it ultimately
ended in a colossal failure. The draft constitution
failed adoption by the convention by three votes—
and a year and a half of effort and emotion on
my part went down the drain. My only tangible
reminder is a nice nameplate, which I used during the
convention, that today sits on my desk as a reminder
that thoughtful research and reform efforts can be
trumped by politics in an instant.
For some unexplained reason, I was undeterred
by this experience, and my career then led me to
work for the U.S. General Accounting Office (since
renamed the Government Accountability Office)
in Washington, DC, in 1977. Although I was not
working on the government reforms of the day,
there were opportunities to observe President Jimmy
Carter s reorganization efforts (also largely a failure,
but they did result in the Departments of Education
and Energy), the Grace Commission under President
Ronald Reagan (which resulted in many headlines but
little action), and Reagan s subsequent “Reform ’88”
initiative (which focused on administrative process
improvements that received few headlines but did set
the stage for future reforms; see OMB 1983 ).
By sheer luck, I was given the opportunity to work
on President Bill Clinton s reinventing government
initiative in 1993, under the direction of Vice
President Al Gore, where I served as a deputy
director until 2001. In that role, I was able to be
a player in the government reforms of the day.
Afterward, I returned to observer status for reforms
under the next three presidents: George W. Bush s
President s Management Agenda and his Program
Assessment Rating Tool; President Barack Obama s
implementation of the American Recovery and
Reinvestment Act and his Open Government
Initiative; and the Donald Trump administration s
evolving streamlining and reorganization efforts.
I m typically not a reflective person. I prefer action
and the concrete, not the abstract. But sometimes
I find myself in a position in which I m asked to
stand back and look at the big picture—such as the
invitation to pen this Viewpoint. My perspective is
that of the U.S. federal executive branch. However,
my observations and lessons may be useful to state
and local reformers, and possibly those in other
I ve chosen to frame what follows as a series of eight
questions that a prospective “reformer” needs to ask
and be ready to answer:
What is “reform,” anyway?
What is the worldview of reformers?
John M. Kamensky
The IBM Center for the Business of Government

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