Team Bush reached out even more to tackle bureaucracy through an aggressive management agenda. The Clinton administration had attempted to “reinvent” government. Its downsizing movement, however, quickly stirred opposition among federal bureaucrats, and its effort to “empower” those officials never received much support in Congress.
Bush decided on a different approach. Where the Clinton government reform movement was run out of a small office distant from the center of West Wing power, Bush directed his management agenda from the Office of Management and Budget, the often feared and always respected voice of the president’s budget priorities. Where the Clinton strategy worked to motivate employees to do more with less, Bush focused on measuring the results of government programs and then on using those results to drive budget decisions. During the 2000 campaign, Bush said bluntly:
Governments should be results-oriented. . . . Where we find success, we should repeat it, share it, and make it the standard. And where we find failure, we must call it by its name. Government action that fails in its purpose must be transformed or ended.
At the core of the Bush management strategy was the belief that if you grabbed bureaucrats by their budgets, their hearts and minds would follow. His team believed that the Clinton effort had fallen short because of his administration’s failure to focus attention on key management reforms. Bush was determined to change that—to give federal officials “freedom to manage,” but to hold them responsible for results.
The launch of the management agenda as part of the December 2001 budget process was a profound surprise, even to many members of the president’s cabinet. They came to the Oval Office for the usual round of appeals—to ask for more money than OMB recommended and to protest programs that had been cut. When they met with Bush, they were amazed to find a scorecard of their department’s track record on issues like financial management and human capital. The scorecard was a simple stoplight system: green for success, yellow for mixed results, and red for unsatisfactory. Only one agency—the National Science Foundation—got a green light. Most departments, including major agencies like Defense, State, Justice, and Health and Human Services, got red lights across the board.
The stoplights got the cabinet secretaries’ attention. In the next budget review, OMB turned up the heat by forcing agencies to measure the results of some of their programs—and pledged to move quickly to force all agencies to assess the outcomes of all programs. “The scorecard employs a simple grading system common today in well-run businesses,” the administration said. Team Bush was intent on bringing those business practices to government. Bush intended those practices, in turn, to help him increase his leverage over the federal government’s vast empire of programs, agencies, and bureaucrats.