- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 15, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

If there is one thing I learned in my many years of working in and for the federal government and the Department of Defense, it is that you cannot successfully force-feed policy to the masses and expect it to be embraced.

The Obama administration seems to think it can work its magic with federal employees and the public in general by saying, “Here is health care reform, a stimulus package, financial reform, immigration reform, etc. We are sure you are going to like it.” At a working level within the Defense Department, we typically approached such change by trying to achieve some kind of “buy-in” from all of the work force as we began to educate our constituents on the nature and details of any change. When we took this approach, it generally was successful - as opposed to the times when we mandated a new policy with no opportunity for anyone to comment, criticize or have input on the change.

Initiatives like the total quality management of the 1980s, government “reinvention laboratories” during the Clinton administration and performance-based acquisition and contracting have had varying results, and they have several things in common. They all started at the top, involved all levels of government and, perhaps arguably, achieved some success in improving the efficiency of certain processes within the government. The eventual cost savings that resulted probably will never be known, but as someone who was involved in each of these initiatives, I can see today where positive changes have been implemented, particularly in more streamlined approaches to government procurement and a greater understanding of and appreciation for quality concepts, performance measurement, customer focus and saving taxpayer dollars.

The Obama administration could learn some valuable lessons from this recent history - but it appears intent instead on pushing its agenda from the top down with little or no regard for the “customers” below. Well, we the people have a vested interest in what the administration does. Corporate America learned the value of listening and responding to its customer base and has been the direct beneficiary of such an approach. President Obama and his staff better take note of this dynamic before it is too late.

ROB WEINHOLD

Dale City, Va.

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