I’ve been thinking a lot about quality and government lately. There have been a lot of cues to think about it. The recent election in France. The continued struggles of Greece. The 10-year quality plan created by AQSIQ in China. The topic came up in Stockholm recently in a Future of Quality workshop sponsored by the Swedish Quality Institute. Government, the audience said, is an essential force of change for quality. Government influences quality through purchasing policy, through public policy, and through its use of (or lack of use) quality in the management of government.
In 2007 by Executive Order of then President George W. Bush, every federal agency of the United States government was required to name a Performance Improvement Officer. In 2010, the Partnership for Public Service commissioned Grant Thornton, a large public accounting firm, to review the progress that has been made. It wasn’t encouraging. Take a look if you’d like.
Government has such a large impact on our lives, our economic security, and our children’s future–yet in any discussion I’ve ever had about the cost of quality, everyone laughs when I say, “In an average manufacturing business, 20 cents of every revenue dollar is lost to the cost of poor quality. In the service industry, 30 cents on a dollar. In health care, 70 cents on a dollar. And in government, no one really knows but always guesses that it’s worse than healthcare.” We laugh because the alternative is tears.
So, the big question of course is–why? Why do citizens expect and demand so little accountability for the poor use of resources in government? Why do so few leaders charged with leading countries, states, provinces, and cities require improved performance? I have great regard for the men and women who serve as public employees. I have no doubt whatsoever that they desire to do good work. I’ve listened to many of their stories of frustration, and sometimes desperation.
I’m sure none of us doubt the direct applicability of quality concepts, techniques, and tools to assure improved performance in the public sector. I know there are thousands of public service success stories to serve as proof positive the quality works. (Here’s one example: One ASQ member has spent the last 15 years mentoring government leaders in Botswana, and helping to create a remarkable quality transformation.)
Yet the adoption rate versus the opportunity is remarkably low. I don’t sense any positive momentum. It seems we can do as much as we want in manufacturing, service, education, and healthcare, but if government doesn’t likewise move along in its own journey to performance excellence, we won’t be able to assure our ability to enjoy an improved quality of life.
If you know of a good public service story, please share it. Look to the stories in the countries where you live, were educated, or work. If you have ideas of what it would take to make quality in government the rule rather than the far-too-seldom exception, please tell us. If your view on the prevalence of quality in government differs, please share your view as well.
Market forces will ultimately weed out the best from worst in the for-profit sector. As consumers, we speak. What ultimately assures the same in government?