A Quality Manager for Obama

nancyPresident-Elect Obama has hired a quality manager, and her name is Nancy Killefer. She is the newly appointed “Chief Performance Officer” whose mandate is to manage budget reforms while eliminating waste in government processes, ultimately making it more effective. An MIT & McKinsey alum, Time calls her the “first official waste watchdog.”

From the Washington Post:

“We can no longer afford to sustain the old ways when we know there are new and more efficient ways of getting the job done,” Obama said during a news conference this morning at his transition office. “Even in good times, Washington can’t afford to continue these bad practices. In bad times, it’s absolutely imperative that Washington stop them and restore confidence that our government is on the side of taxpayers and everyday Americans.”

This is a fantastic indication of our new administration’s commitment to quality, and its recognition that the current economic crises can only be solved by fiscal pragmatism and solid foundations.

Regardless of what happens next, I am pleased to see that our new administration’s attitude is so positive:

As he named Killefer, Obama promised to scour the federal budget to eliminate what doesn’t work and improve what does to “put government on the side of taxpayers.” He said: “We can no longer afford to sustain the old ways when we know there are new and more efficient ways to getting the job done.”

Nancy, you should join ASQ (if you’re not already a part of the organization). There are 100,000+ of us, more or less, that not only support you but want to help you develop a high-performance government. We come from all industries, are adept at process improvement at creative solutions for increasing efficiency, and can be effective advocates for your mission. Let us know how to help!


  • Previous administrations have had exactly the same thing (regardless what Time magazine says), so I don’t think we should get carried away. Eliminating wasteful government spending is a refrain from every new administration.

    Is the new administration eliminating crazy plans to use corn ethanol? No. They might actual allow drug prices to be negotiated (instead of forcing government to pay more for drug than they could with negotiation as has been the case). Do you think this next ~$700 billion plan won’t be rife with huge amounts of wasteful spending targeted based on political pork rather than economic benefit to the country? I don’t, it will be port laden.

    The Grace Commission in 1982 provide a report to the Regan Administration http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Grace_Commission

    The Clinton administration had the National Performance Review
    Which was the closest thing to an attempt to move toward ASQ type management improvement.

    Radio Address to the Nation on the Management of the Federal Government by Ronald Reagan, October 29, 1988 “We also set up the Private Sector Survey on Cost Control led by Peter Grace — almost 200 top business executives. This Commission spent months looking at every part of the Government, finding out where modern business practices could eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse in the Government. When they were through, they’d come up with 2,478 suggestions. And almost every recommendation we could put into effect without congressional action has been implemented. And we’ve saved close to $80 billion. We’re hoping that the next Congress will pitch in and do its part.”

    The current administration had their own President’s Management Agenda

    “President Bush has made right sizing the U.S. presence overseas a part of his management agenda, and we are working actively with the State Department, OMB and other international agencies to meet these objectives.

    We are developing a comprehensive competitive sourcing plan to enable competition to generate savings and performance improvements in our administrative services. We are also collaborating with the State Department in this area in strategic planning and identification of opportunities for joint action.”


    And on and on I am sure. It would be wonderful if the new administration actually adopts management improvements to improve results. There will be improvement made I am sure. It is not very challenging to improve. The challenge is to improve significantly more quickly than others and to sustain that pace over the long term. There is nothing wrong with being optimistic that the new administration will set off a new long term significantly better than normal continual improvement effort. But what is valuable, in my opinion, is to critically examine strategies and results not pretty vague promises.

    I was one of the founders of the ASQ Public Sector Network (now Government Division) and manage the Public Sector Continuous Improvement Site http://curiouscat.com/psci/

  • Hi John – I definitely agree that executive sponsorship of initiatives for reducing waste and improving efficiency is not new. What seems to be unique is appointing *one person* to oversee such a program at such a high level. I would really be interested in finding out if there were equivalent positions in the past – it would give us the opportunity to examine the records of those who held the office.

    You mention that the theme of government accountability was important to Clinton. I remember some of this – in fact, I have a certificate in my office from Al Gore’s “Partnership for a More Effective Government” program in the late 1990’s where the Clinton Administration recognized government-sponsored projects that were cost effective. Although recognition is great, what wasn’t part of that program was 1) proactively helping teams identify and manage to appropriate metrics, 2) helping the government teams share best practices, and 3) aggressively prioritizing government programs.

    I’m hoping that these latter functions will be part of the new administration’s emphasis on quality, efficiency and change. In particular, one of my opinions on prioritization is that we as a country try to be “the best” at everything, when in fact we should be identifying our core competencies and focusing our effort and budget on those. If that ever happens, there will be plenty of people who are offended – but I don’t think democracy involves trying to do everything a little bit to pacify people and groups with diverse interests. We need to pick what we (as a country) want to be good at, and what aligns best with the natural resources in our domain, and hit it hard. If other countries are better in some areas, and it’s not in our strategic best interest to invest in those areas, we should make some tough choices over the next few years.

    In any case, I’ll be watching this new post with keen interest!

  • It will be interesting. I would say such high level positions have existed. The directors of OMB in the current administration have had this same position, just using a bit different words. But the President’s Management Agenda has basically said similar stuff for the last 8 years (a bit more focus on “accountability” and “measures” that those familiar with Deming, lean.. ideas can see as fairly useless platitudes). But not much different than platitudes about waste reduction.

    I would say that the “Partnership for a More Effective Government” (NPR) did attempt to do those things. I know I personally set up a database to share best practices at the Department of Defense and the the NPR folks wanted to share it for their efforts (I think it was the DoD NPR folks).

    If you talked to the folks in NPR I think they would have said they were doing all three though they wished they had more buy in from the management structure inside agencies.

    Trying to accomplish significant management change at the entire federal government level is extremely difficult. Doing it at the DoD level is extremely difficult. Even relatively small organizations (inside or outside the federal government) find it very difficult to coordinate across internal barriers. The challenge of management change across the federal government is many times greater (just in the one dimension of internal barriers and cultures) that I think most people have trouble even conceiving it.

    The opportunities exist to improve. And there is no reason huge gains can’t be made. But one person is essentially meaningless, in my opinion. Even at OMB where “management policy” is supposedly set for the federal government.

    I figure if there is to be significant success a year from now we will see changes and a huge activity in educating management leaders throughout government on specific management concepts. If there isn’t a huge effort on education I can’t see any realistic expectations of real change. And then of course policies, practices… all have to be changed too…

    Significant change isn’t be made by someone in Washington saying lets reduce waste. There have been plenty of management edicts to do so including NPR and President Bush’s President’s Management Agenda – http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budintegration/pma_index.html

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  • So, what has become of this initiative after Killefer withdrew. In my opinion, this is one of the most important positions in the Administration. I have been waiting for years for real focus to be brought on wasteful spending. Government should be focused on essential services for the public, and it should be ran like a corporation, accountable to its shareholders. There is no serious incentive (like profits) to manage efficiently. Outside of fiscal policy and the utterly pathetic Federal tax code, state and local governments can dip freely into our pockets at any time to shore up their coffers after wasting dollar after dollar without a clue as to how to manage and allocate resources to maximize the benefit to the public.

    I went yesterday to purchase guest parking passes for my street. The price is now $8, up from $5, a 60% increase! No vote, no parliamentary procedure or comment from the public on these matters. Timely, the NYT published an article pointing out the raising of fees by municipalities to shore up their budgets. See http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/11/business/11fees.html.

    The extent of wasteful spending has gotten so out of control that it is a dangerous part of the fiscal problem in this country. A result of political squabbling, outdated economic theory and lack of real transparency, it is one of the problems that must be fixed. Unfortunately, the response to the current economic crisis is bigger government, which some liberals see as an opportunity to make permanent.

    We don’t need bigger government; we need better government. We need government to focus on serving the public with national security, health and human services and modern infrastructure. Setting political bickering and divisiveness aside, this country had better find focus, or enriched, developing nations will seize the mantel to overtake a weak United States. We can no longer stand on laurels of the past.

    I hope that what we are now experiencing, and the debate at hand on how to respond to the multitude of mistakes made by a capitalist system that cracked up and put the country on the brink, I hope that we focus on redefining and rebuilding America in the image of our founding fathers. Lincoln urged these ideas at Gettysburg that we “be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

  • Pingback: New Quality Manager for Obama: Zients replaces Killefer « Quality and Innovation

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