Throughout my federal career, I had the opportunity to work with and support many presidentially inspired “change initiatives,” with the expectation that change would result in what citizens would conclude is an improvement.
The past initiatives include zero-based budgeting, quality circles, total quality management, Federal Managers Financial Integrity Act (FMFIA), Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence, Corporate Information Management, Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA), business process reengineering, reinventing government, Six Sigma, and Lean.
Many of these programs have faded away. The initiatives supported by law (such as GPRA and FMFIA) are still on the books, but they certainly have not achieved their aims. Only the Baldrige program has successfully stayed the course since its inception in 1987.
I’m guardedly optimistic that government reform and improvement under the Trump Administration may have more success in bringing about and sustaining needed improvement.
Newt Gingrich and the Trump Administration
In the 2016 U.S. presidential election, voters voiced their demand for change. Veteran pollster and political strategist Patrick Caddell noted that this race represents another American revolution.
Trump supporters demand revolutionary change. Trump opponents are awaiting evidence that the new administration can make changes in one area without making things worse in others.
Success in achieving real improvement in a political climate that has been described as divisive and polarizing requires new approaches. Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the U.S. House and advisor to President-elect Donald Trump, might be able to provide them.
When Gingrich was asked about a possible new role in the Trump administration, he remarked that he saw himself as more of a waste, fraud and abuse czar. In The Hill, Gingrich commented:
“I said I want to be the senior planner for the entire federal government, and I want a letter from you that says Newt Gingrich is authorized to go to any program in any department, examine it and report directly to the president.”
In a follow-up question on the involvement of Gingrich, President-elect Trump stated that “Gingrich is going to be involved in our government.” However, The Washington Post reported that Gingrich intends to focus on “strategic planning” rather than run a federal department. Gingrich remarked:
“I want to be free to network across the whole system and look at what we have to do to succeed.”
During his run for president in 2012, Gingrich signed a pledge to adopt Lean Six Sigma in government if elected. By signing the pledge, he promised to:
“eliminate spending deficits and start paying down the national debt by 2017 by deploying Lean Six Sigma waste reduction methods to detect and eliminate 25 percent of spending per year across the federal government.”
As I mentioned in a previous article at FedSmith.com, “Individual and System Performance – Pass or Fail?”, Lean Six Sigma methods and tools can improve efficiency. However, they are not sufficient to bring about the federal-level changes that are needed to positively impact the entire nation. A new quality paradigm is needed.
The New Quality Paradigm
From 1991-1993, Gingrich was a student of the world-renowned quality expert W. Edwards Deming. Deming’s contributions were recognized by U.S. News and World Report as one of the nine turning points in world history and by FORTUNE Magazine as among the greatest contributions in business history. Dr. Deming was also nominated for a Nobel Prize in Economics.
Gingrich met with Deming for about 60 hours over a three-year period to learn how Deming’s principles could be applied to support a quality transformation in America. Gingrich integrated what he learned from Deming in the sixth class (“Pillar Five, Quality as Defined by Deming”) of a 10-session college course titled “Renewing American Civilization.”
Excerpts from that college course have been compiled into the book Readings in Renewing American Civilization (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1993). On page 107, Gingrich defines “The New Quality Paradigm” as follows:
“What Deming offers is the beginning of a new paradigm and a framework for management within it.
His aim is to improve the quality of life and economic situation of all. Some may quibble with the aim, but there are no viable alternatives. Because of interdependencies, everyone will eventually lose unless all can win.
Furthermore, ensuring that everyone wins is not a matter of taking from the rich to give to the poor, i.e., redistributing the outcomes of the process. Rather, it is of working on today’s process so that everyone can get better results tomorrow.
The job is to improve the ability of each and every individual and organization to create value for themselves and for the society that nurtures them.”
New Standard for Quality Leadership
Successful application of “The New Quality Paradigm” requires the application of a new standard for quality leadership derived from the contributions of Walter A. Shewhart and W. Edwards Deming.
Deming concluded that working to achieve optimal levels of performance is all about reducing variation from the ideal. Deming also reinforced that the failure to understand variation results in situations where the majority of not all in some cases, of changes, result in no improvement. This observation was certainly validated by my experiences with change within the government.
During the final years of my career (2011-2014), I wrote a series of articles in FedSmith.com on the need for change and how better methods could be applied to improve the efficiencies and effectiveness of the political system and the administration of its policies, laws, and regulations.
A Way Ahead
The U.S. political system was designed to be continually improved through changes that result in “a more perfect union.” As Gingrich so eloquently expressed, a new paradigm is needed to achieve the types of results where everyone gains or is, at least, not any worse off. This requires the application of a new standard of quality leadership. Leading this transformation in a political climate that is divisive and polarizing has to be considered one of the ultimate challenges—but it is a challenge that the American people will expect to be met.
The mid-term elections in 2018 will provide citizens with the opportunity to provide feedback on the direction and to determine if they are any better off in 2018 than they were in 2016.