Clipped in Atlanta


AS Congress considers President Clinton's economic plan, the focus is on reducing the deficit, spending less and increasing investments that create jobs.

But there's another deficit we're addressing as well, the trust deficit: a widespread belief government simply can't be trusted to spend tax dollars wisely.

To eliminate that credibility gap, we're working to develop a new customer-service contract with the American people that has a simple goal: We want the government to work better and cost less.

Since President Clinton asked me to lead the National Performance Review -- a six-month comprehensive study of every government agency -- I've heard from thousands of federal workers and private citizens.

Consider what the Federal Marshals Service of the Justice Department faced when it wanted to get the lawns mowed at houses it seized in drug cases. I heard about it from an employee of the Marshals Service in Atlanta.

The department resells the houses and uses the money to finance the war on drugs. But to sell a house, you've got to keep it presentable and that means mowing the lawn.

In Atlanta, they thought they'd hire a teen-ager for about $10 a lawn. But procurement regulations dictated that they had to do it competitively -- and, of course, kids don't write bid proposals.

So they had to negotiate a contract with a large firm to mow all the lawns in the Atlanta region -- for $40 a lawn.

Another federal employee came to me with a contraption called a steam trap that's used to take dirt and oil out of steam lines. It costs about $100. When it goes bad, it leaks about $50 worth of steam a week.

A federal engineer wanted to replace some leaky ones. The problem was, the central procurement office had been directed to buy in quantity to save money.

So the office saved up all its requests for traps for a solid year. It bought every $100 steam trap for $90 and saved $10. While it waited, each leaky trap cost the taxpayers 50 weeks of steam. That came to $2,500 -- $2,500 to save $10.

An Interior Department employee told me how she used the frequent-flyer miles she earned on government travel to get a free ticket for a government trip. But the trip required that she stay over for a Saturday night.

She did, staying with friends instead of incurring hotel costs. But when she returned the department refused to pay the extra per diem -- $38 -- even though she had saved it $331 by giving up her Saturday in exchange for a free ticket.

In 1989, an administrator of the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration admitted to the Wall Street Journal that his agency did not even monitor the results of the $2 billion it spent each year.

A Department of Transportation employee told me about a telephone device for the deaf that the agency purchased for her use. She could have bought it retail for $300. The department paid $600.

These stories demonstrate that government has a lot of good people trapped in bad systems.

We need to move from an industrial-age government to an information-age government. We are working to change the very culture of our government.

We want a government that measures performance and puts its customers first. We want to inject competition within government and make government more market-oriented.

We want to empower communities to solve their own problems, give workers the power to make their own decisions and then hold them accountable for the results.

This fall, the National Performance Review will produce a report with specific suggestions for steps we can take immediately and for longer-term action to bring about real change.

It's time we created a government that can move on issues as small as a steam trap and as large as our future.

The vice president spoke yesterday to federal employees involved in performance reviews of government work. This article is adapted from his remarks.

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