According to Greg Woods, team leader of the National Performance Review's information technology and customer service task forces, information technology "lets us realize dreams about how we could deliver services." Woods' primary charge is to help coordinate NPR report recommendations for improving service delivery.
He is in frequent contact with state and local government representatives, and said that coordination between levels of government is critical. The lines between federal, state and local government "ought to be blurred in how we deliver services," he said. "Cooperative efforts are an essential part of what we do."
Woods joined government in the 1970s to work on arms control issues for the Pentagon, but has spent most of the past 20 years in the private sector as an engineer and industry executive. Before he was recruited for the NPR team in May 1993, Woods was chief executive officer of Albuquerque, N.M.-based SEA Inc., a start up technology firm. He was retained by the NPR after the main report was issued in September 1993.
Following is an edited transcript of an interview conducted by Brian Miller, GT features editor.
GT: What is the role of service delivery in government? What is its importance in the larger scheme of government's purpose?
Woods: It seems very fundamental, maybe obvious. But the idea is that government exists to deliver services to the American people and on behalf of the American people.
So the government inherently ought to be customer-driven. That was part of the basic principles of the National Performance Review from the day it began. The vice president referred to it as a new customer service contract with the American people.
I think it's a fundamental shift. One way to characterize it is government has for decades internally looked inside itself.
There was a close-knit relationship in the executive branch and between the executive branch and Congress.
What the customer service initiative is calling for is to involve the voice of the people directly in that process, by surveying them to find out what they think is important in terms of government services and how they think those services should be delivered.
Imagine it as a new kind of organizational chart. With the old organization chart, you've got management on top and the employees underneath trying to satisfy management or Congress. With the new organization chart, customers are on top, employees are empowered to serve those customers, and management is on the bottom trying to find ways to help. A reversal, essentially.
GT: What is technology's role in this concept?.
Woods: It's the great enabler. It lets us realize dreams about how we would deliver services. We talk about virtual departments where the individual citizen and individual businessman interacts with government, where and when they want to, using information technology to facilitate that and make it happen.
It is core to what we're trying to do. And of course, with the vice president, we have a very technology-oriented leader who believes in solutions that depend on technology, who believes that technology can enable the kinds of things that we're talking about.
GT: How much can be done without information technology?
Woods: Well, you can do a lot of the same kinds of things. But you won't be able to do it in a timely fashion and in a way that the American people have come to expect.
The public knows what good customer service is. They go to a store or deal with an insurance company, and they are treated with respect. Their transaction is dealt with in one phone call or one visit.
They know what good customer service is and they decide that is where they are going to go.