Past Issues of Government Technology

Greg Woods, National Performance Review

Greg Woods, National Performance Review

by / February 28, 1995 0
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. We can't expect them to check their brains and those experiences when they go into a government office. They are going to have the same type of expectations.

And if government isn't technology enabled, it will constantly disappoint the public. And there is no reason why we can't enable these government operations.

GT: The American public seems to have changed its focus and is demanding better service, whether it's a faster renewal of a driver's license or access to entitlements. When and how did this focus change occur? How do you read this?

Woods: I think it's commercially driven. It's driven by the transformation that has taken place in American business, stimulated by international competition and competition within the country. American businesses pay more and more attention to what customers want and how to satisfy those customer needs.

Because you get the kind of service you do now in a department store, or from an L. L. Bean, your expectation of what kinds of services are available grows. And when one person walks across the street from a department store and goes into the federal office, they're not going to change those sets of expectations because it happens to be a government office. That is just not a reasonable thing for government to expect.

If Federal Express makes a commitment to deliver by 10:30 the next morning, why shouldn't government make a similar commitment? People have a right to expect that. I think it's all part of the competition that has taken place commercially that has driven this kind of expectation to a higher plane.

GT: Regarding making this kind of service delivery a reality, what is the administration's game plan?

Woods: The basic blueprint, as well as most of the points of departure for what we're doing, is contained in the report of the National Performance Review of the summer of 1993. That report contains over 300 specific recommendations to change government, to put customers first, to cut red tape, to empower employees and to cut back to basics.

The report asks for the creation of different committees or task forces needed to carry out all the recommendations that are in it. When the report was presented to the president, he said that every place in the report where it said "the president shall," the president said he would and he's lived up to that. We've had some legislative success also, and all together, we believe that about 90 percent of the recommendations that are in that report are in progress.

The total savings attributable to the recommendations in there account for over $60 billion, maybe more like $70 billion. In fact, the crime bill that was passed last year explicitly uses those savings to pay for its provisions.

We have committees on labor management partnership, procurement, civil service reform. And, of course, we have the GITS (government information technology services) working group. It's working to implement 13 basic recommendations that the National Performance Review had in the area of information technology.

GT: Can you give me the status of GITS and some details of its work?

Woods: GITS was created almost immediately following the September 1993 NPR release. We went through the process of assigning what we call champions from among the GITS members to each of the of the recommendations of the National Performance Review.

The GITS membership is drawn from among the major federal agencies with IT interests and support the recommendations in the report. The working teams go well beyond that, pulling in whoever is appropriate from all federal agencies to try to turn those NPR recommendations into reality. GITS really functions as an extension of the NPR.

GT: Can you tell me about some of the concrete results GITS has been responsible for developing? m to check their brains and those experiences when they go into a government office. They are going to have the same type of expectations.

And if government isn't technology enabled, it will constantly disappoint the public. And there is no reason why we can't enable these government operations.

GT: The American public seems to have changed its focus and is demanding better service, whether it's a faster renewal of a driver's license or access to entitlements. When and how did this focus change occur? How do you read this?

Woods: I think it's commercially driven. It's driven by the transformation that has taken place in American business, stimulated by international competition and competition within the country. American businesses pay more and more attention to what customers want and how to satisfy those customer needs.

Because you get the kind of service you do now in a department store, or from an L. L. Bean, your expectation of what kinds of services are available grows. And when one person walks across the street from a department store and goes into the federal office, they're not going to change those sets of expectations because it happens to be a government office. That is just not a reasonable thing for government to expect.

If Federal Express makes a commitment to deliver by 10:30 the next morning, why shouldn't government make a similar commitment? People have a right to expect that. I think it's all part of the competition that has taken place commercially that has driven this kind of expectation to a higher plane.

GT: Regarding making this kind of service delivery a reality, what is the administration's game plan?

Woods: The basic blueprint, as well as most of the points of departure for what we're doing, is contained in the report of the National Performance Review of the summer of 1993. That report contains over 300 specific recommendations to change government, to put customers first, to cut red tape, to empower employees and to cut back to basics.

The report asks for the creation of different committees or task forces needed to carry out all the recommendations that are in it. When the report was presented to the president, he said that every place in the report where it said "the president shall," the president said he would and he's lived up to that. We've had some legislative success also, and all together, we believe that about 90 percent of the recommendations that are in that report are in progress.

The total savings attributable to the recommendations in there account for over $60 billion, maybe more like $70 billion. In fact, the crime bill that was passed last year explicitly uses those savings to pay for its provisions.

We have committees on labor management partnership, procurement, civil service reform. And, of course, we have the GITS (government information technology services) working group. It's working to implement 13 basic recommendations that the National Performance Review had in the area of information technology.

GT: Can you give me the status of GITS and some details of its work?

Woods: GITS was created almost immediately following the September 1993 NPR release. We went through the process of assigning what we call champions from among the GITS members to each of the of the recommendations of the National Performance Review.

The GITS membership is drawn from among the major federal agencies with IT interests and support the recommendations in the report. The working teams go well beyond that, pulling in whoever is appropriate from all federal agencies to try to turn those NPR recommendations into reality. GITS really functions as an extension of the NPR.

GT: Can you tell me about some of the concrete results GITS has been responsible for developing?

Woods: It's hard to do without having the context of the report, but here are a few examples. The report called for the use of information technology to transfer benefits electronically. In June of 1994, the vice president, along with the Electronic Benefits Transfer task force, rolled out a major initiative that would transfer benefits under about nine federal and state programs, accounting for some $110 billion a year. Those benefits would be transferred electronically using a single card and ATM and point-of-sale technology.

The plan calls for having EBT up and running on a national level within five years, and the project has begun with an alliance of Southern states who have introduced and are rolling out EBT in their states. It builds on pilot projects in Maryland, New Mexico and other places.

This is an example of the kind of thing that GITS is trying to do. We also have a task force on customer service to implement the customer-oriented recommendations in the IT report. So across the board, you have things going on with all the IT recommendations.

GT: How are state and local governments being included in these initiatives?

Woods: In many instances, state and local governments are way out in front of the federal government in using IT to solve problems.

The electronic benefits transfer project that I just described is built on projects that run and succeeded on the state level. A lot of the things we are trying to do with kiosks are piloted at the local and at the state level. Across the board they have a rich source of ideas about what the federal government ought to do.

In general, the attitude here is that the public sees government as government, and they tend not to distinguish between local, state and federal. It's not that they don't distinguish, but those boundaries are blurred. And they ought to be blurred in how we deliver services. So cooperative efforts are an essential part of what we do and I think we're finding ways of doing a better job of that.

GT: What is the time line for getting much of this implemented and institutionalized?

Woods: Many of the things are in a pilot stage at this point. There are things that we're working on that are of interest beyond five years, but basically our goal is to have solid demonstrations of the kinds of things we're talking about in a two-year time frame and major implementations in five years.



We want the average citizen, when they go to deal with government, to know that it's different, to be able to recognize, with the kind of interaction they have, that things have changed, that it's customer-driven and that we're doing whatever we can to use technology to improve service delivery.