Nearly every modern president has attempted to reform the bureaucracy. Some recent successful attempts at bureaucratic reform include the following:
In 1976, Congress passed the Government in the Sunshine Act, which required that the public have access to the proceedings and actions of the bureaucracies. Such openness is meant to encourage the public to complain about hostile or inefficient bureaucrats. Sunshine laws require government agencies to hold public meetings on a regular basis. Some proceedings, such as court meetings, top secret matters, and personnel matters that could be embarrassing can remain secret.
Sometimes Congress passes laws with an expiration date, known as sunset provisions, because the laws will end at a specified time. For a program to continue past its expiration date, the agency must demonstrate that the program achieves its goals in an efficient manner. Sunset provisions make bureaucrats accountable for their performance: Only successful programs get renewed.
Privatization occurs when private companies perform services that were formerly handled by a government agency. For example, the government may abolish public housing and instead give rental vouchers to residents to use in privately owned apartments. Supporters of privatization argue that private profit-driven organizations are more efficient than government bureaucracies because companies have strong incentives to be as efficient as possible. Privatization has been somewhat successful, particularly for services provided by local governments (such as trash collection). Some services do not translate well from public to private, however, and some—such as national defense—cannot be transferred to private firms at all.
Critics complain that government bureaucrats lack incentives to perform efficiently. To overcome inefficiency, some state governments have started offering more incentives to employees, such as financial rewards tied to job performance. The president and Congress have also required government agencies to list specific goals, and the agencies then receive feedback about how well those goals have been met. President George W. Bush’s performance-based budgeting carries this idea a step further by tying funding directly to performance.
A whistleblower is a person who exposes corruption or inefficiency. As a result of blowing the whistle, some people have been demoted or fired. Congress has sought to protect whistleblowers because whistleblowers increase accountability by exposing problems. Despite the laws passed by Congress, many whistleblowers still suffer because of their actions.