Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Washington Management Service
April 30, 1997
This is a very special occasion for me: it's a chance to lay out my vision for the future of state government - and, I hope, to persuade you to share that vision of pride, hard work, and renewal.
I believe that public service is profoundly important, and that the public's faith in its public institutions is the cornerstone on which democracy rests.
But during the course of my adult life - as a deputy prosecutor, a legislator, and as King County executive - I've watched the public's regard for public service decline. That decline has brought us to a dangerous point - a point at which too many people no longer trust government to spend their tax dollars wisely, or to govern for the common good.
This deficit of faith comes at a time when devolution of federal authority to the states puts us in positions of greater responsibility - but also positions of greater vulnerability to the consequences of public mistrust.
Initiative 601 is one of those consequences. Its message is that the public simply doesn't believe that we're making the best use of their hard-earned tax dollars. Its message is that the public feels betrayed by our inefficiency, and disrespected by our bureaucracy.
Whether we agree with that message is not the point. What matters is that we understand why this has happened, so that we can restore the public's faith in us.
Like most of you, I blame the media for some of it. "Waste in government" stories have become a depressingly regular feature of the news media. And many of those stories are one-sided and misleading.
Another part of the hostility to public service is the result of the post-Watergate mentality - the belief that politics is a dirty business, and that anyone who works for government is tainted by the fact that their bosses are politicians.
But dumb media stories and the public's dim view of politics are not the whole picture.
The truth is that the public's disdain for public service is also the result of a long litany of our own shortcomings. Too many public managers have embraced the comforts of bureaucracy and regulation too tightly. Too many have focused on following procedures rather than achieving results. Too few have been held accountable for improving services or speeding up lengthy and cumbersome processes. And too rarely have public managers reached out to create partnerships -- with business, labor, citizens, and other agencies -- that would enable us to find lasting solutions to the problems that confront our government and our society.
So while it always feels good to vent our frustrations, it's time to acknowledge that complaining about the media or the public's lack of appreciation won't help.
What will help is focusing on how every person in this room can improve the performance of state government in ways that citizens will notice. What will help is understanding that we cannot evade the taxpayers' legitimate demand that we do more with less. And what will help the most is facing these challenges with a spirit of pride, optimism, confidence and idealism.
If public service were easy, it would be boring. What makes our work meaningful and satisfying is that we serve a great cause - the cause of democratic self-government.
Democracy is the toughest boss there is. It is demanding, messy, complicated, and constantly changing.
Democracy means that people are always looking over our shoulders, and second-guessing our decisions. And democracy means that public employees get the most excruciatingly difficult jobs.
When families fall apart and children are neglected or abused, we're the ones who have to intervene.
When our water resources are threatened with overuse or contamination, we're supposed to settle the disputes and protect the resource. We're supposed to divide a limited resource among an increasing number of users who will not settle for less than they want.
When crime threatens our communities, we're supposed to craft policies and programs to prevent crime, and build prisons to protect the public from criminals - while spending less than before.
And when the mentally ill eat out of dumpsters and sleep in doorways, we're supposed to marshal the resources to get them off the streets -- without violating their civil rights.
It's important to acknowledge that our work is never going to be easy; that it's never going to make us rich; and that none of us will ever win a Pulitzer Prize or an Oscar for public service.
What motivates us must be something far deeper. For us to succeed and persevere, we have to be driven by the belief that our service to the cause of democracy has value beyond the conventional measures of wealth or fame.
We have to understand that to the extent that we can sustain or restore people's faith in representative government, we can protect our state's and our country's future freedom and prosperity.
Public servants used to know this, but it is knowledge that is in danger of being lost.
In the era of Eisenhower and Kennedy, the best and brightest flocked to public service because they saw an opportunity to make a difference. In that less cynical era, when Kennedy called on people to "ask what you can do for your country," a lot of people answered the question by entering public service.
We need to recreate that sense of idealism and pride in public service. I want working for the state of Washington to be not just a job, but a calling -- a personal commitment to excellence in service to democracy.
I want working for state government to be as respected asworking for Microsoft, Boeing, or the Fred Hutchison Research Center.
I need your help to do this.
We have to start by showing the world that we are willing to be held accountable for measurably improving the performance of all our operations.
I'm asking you to lead this change. Your job is to use all the tools and techniques of modern management to achieve better, faster, and more efficient service to citizens.
I am not asking you to operate state functions more like business. I am asking you to operate state government better than business.
Let me explain.
We often talk about improving customer service. I support that idea, but with this caveat: our customers are not just customers. They are something more important: they are citizens.
When a customer buys a hamburger, for instance, he or she is just buying a hamburger. If it's good, they might come back. But if it's lousy, or if the service is surly, they'll go somewhere else next time.
But when a citizen renews a license, or gets a building permit, or visits a state park, he or she is evaluating the legitimacy of our democratic form of government. Every transaction our citizens have with us either builds their faith in our democratic government or damages it. Our bottom line is not profit; it is the public's trust in our form of government.
To sustain that trust over the long term, it is not enough for us to make our customers happy today. We must also produce results that protect the long-term interests of citizens.
Even if parents like their children's schools the way they are, we have to keep pushing for higher academic standards if we want a new generation of effective, well-informed and employable citizens.
Even if people are happy with our state parks today, we have figure out how to provide twice as many people with the same wilderness experiences fifty years from now.
Without a doubt, we face the most difficult challenges around. But we can meet these challenges, if we raise our sights, and our standards. We have to raise our sights from the daily work on our desks and look at what's on the horizon. And we have to raise our standards of performance if we want to do more than tread water as successive waves of change wash over us.
That's why my first executive order was directed at reducing red tape and regulation.
When I became King County Executive, one of the first things that came to my desk was a set of forms to correct a mistake on a clerk's personnel forms. That required eight signatures, and the last one was supposed to be mine.
When I objected, and sent it back with a request that this process be simplified, people resisted. No one wanted to be the last signature on the page, because no one wanted to be responsible in case there was a mistake.
It was that culture of fear that had to change in order for people to take responsibility. People need to know that if they do their best and use good judgment, they will not be hung out to dry if something goes wrong.
When the tiles fell from the Kingdome roof, we saw the same phenomenon. Reporters immediately wanted to know who I was going to fire.
I didn't fire anyone. The people involved had used their best judgment, and had followed the advice of respected experts. I backed them up.
And we succeeded in simplifying those personnel forms and pushing responsibility down to the levels where it belonged because people finally understood that we would not manage by picking scapegoats.
The purpose of my executive order on regulatory reform is to create that same culture of taking responsibility in state government. I want to eliminate dumb rules that get in the way of achieving results, streamline processes and encourage people to take responsibility and to use their good judgment, and focus on serving citizens rather than covering our behinds.
That's just the beginning. In a few minutes, I will sign a second executive order: a quality initiative that focuses on using quality improvement, business process redesign, and employee involvement to improve the quality, efficiency, and effectiveness of all we do.
The members of my executive cabinet have each been instructed to develop quality improvement plans, and asked to sign performance agreements that will spell out the goals they intend to achieve.
I want all of them - and all of you - to be liberated from the straightjacket of old habits and traditions.
Every state agency should be a learning organization - an organization that values flexibility and individual initiative, that rewards taking risks, and learns from experience. And every state agency should be led both from the bottom up and from the top down.
This relentless focus on accountability for achieving results will soon permeate every state agency.
This may scare the daylights out of those who like things just the way they are. But those of you who share my passion for improvement will find reasons to rejoice.
You know that genuine employee involvement is the sincerest form of democracy, and that it liberates the creativity of those who know the most about where improvement is possible.
And you know that the difference between a fad and a successful management strategy is the degree of creativity, imagination, and empathy with which you use these powerful new tools.
We have no room in state government for managers who bear any resemblance to Dilbert's boss.
We have neither the time nor the resources to carry the unproductive, to tolerate the mediocre, or to humor the rigid, turf-protecting bureaucrat. Those are the soon-to-be-extinct dinosaurs of state government.
In the era that I am asking you to help create, we need to develop a new set of guiding principles and practices for state managers. And I want you to help write them.
Here's my rough draft:
First, we need managers who see themselves as patriots engaged in the work of democracy - people who work with an important public purpose in mind.
Second, we need managers who always think about how to do things better -- at the same time they're working to get things done.
Third, we need managers who can create a clear definition of success, and a clear strategy for achieving it.
Fourth, we need managers who listen --to the public and to the people who work for them --and who reach out and create genuine partnerships with citizens, businesses, labor, educators, and other agencies at all levels of government.
Fifth, we need managers who accept responsibility for achieving results, improving service, and reducing costs in ways that measurably serve the common good.
Sixth, we need managers who are confident of their skills, dissatisfied with the status quo, and willing to change.
Seventh, we need managers who create learning organizations, and set an example by learning from their own experiences, from the people who work for them, and from the best practices of others.
Eighth, we need managers who are whole people: people who strike a reasonable balance between work, family and community obligations, and whose family and community lives keep them grounded in the real world of Washington's citizens.
Ninth, we need managers who are willing to use new management tools and techniques, and to use them appropriately. This includes important management guidelines such as "The Dilbert Principle" which calls on all managers to admit it when we are idiots - which we all occasionally are.
And tenth, we need managers who recognize and reward good performance.
These ten principles are - like everything else - open to change and improvement, and I hope you will feel free to submit your editorial suggestions.
Finally, I want to thank you for your willingness to serve the public at this difficult juncture in our history.
I know that many of you are the undeserving recipients of the slings and arrows of negative public opinion. And I am also aware that I am asking more of you at a time when the legislature has been unwilling to give you the cost-of-living raises that you deserve. I assure you that I will work hard to correct that deficiency in the next legislative session.
I recognize that our managers are our most important repository of knowledge about the workings of state government. I do not intend to use our quality initiative as a vehicle for a mean-spirited imitation of corporate downsizing.
We know now that companies that eliminated middle managers are suffering from the loss of their expertise, their historical knowledge, and their productivity.
Our strategy is to achieve efficiencies that free up more people for the direct delivery of services. If there are reductions, we plan to achieve them through attrition.
But if we want to win on the issue of salaries, and forestall those who think that the only way to reduce red tape is to fire managers, we must restore the public's trust and admiration for public service.
The only way to do that is to improve the quality, efficiency, and friendliness of the services we provide to citizens.
That is my goal. That is the mission I'm asking you to share.
And now, to signal the dawn of a new day in state government, I will sign this Quality Improvement Executive Order.
This measure directs every agency to develop and implement a program to improve the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of the public services you provide.
It calls on each agency to involve front-line workers, and to give them the training they need to be effective and powerful agents of change.
It establishes a subcabinet on Management Improvement and Results, and a Governor's Council on Service Improvement and Performance that I will chair. That Council will include representatives from business, labor, the media, higher education, and my Executive Cabinet. Together, we will hold each agency accountable for change and improvement.
So let the future begin.
We have all the talent, creativity, and political will we need to make this initiative a success. And I hope that we all share a sense of urgency and importance about doing all we can to rebuild and renew public respect for public service.
Thank you very much.