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“Reinventing Government” by Donald Kettl

Such concept as the reinvention of the government has always been a subject of thorough sociological analysis. Overall, this notion can be discussed from several perspectives such as for instance administrative and political. Traditionally, it implies some radical or even revolutionary changes in society and state machinery. However, this belief is based on common misconception, because this transformation does not necessarily require some violent measures, which can lead only to another totalitarian regime.

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Probably, it is more prudent to regard it as some evolutionary and consequently gradual and very slow change, as Donald Kettl believes (Kettl, 1994, p. 3). The common mistake, which people so often make, is that they try to achieve only quick results, paying practically no attention to the long-term policies. Later, it leads them to the conviction that reforms are useless, because their impacts are not obvious. The thing is that the consequence of such reforms can manifest themselves only after a considerable amount of time. Unfortunately, this fact is often overlooked even by the government officials, who think that the transformation is something unrealistic or even dangerous, just because they fail to see the essence of this procedure.

The main purpose of this report is to describe the process of reinvention, which took place in the United States in the early nineties. In his book Reinventing Government? , Donald Kettl presents close examination of this problem. He argues that certain aspects of reforms were rather beneficial and the citizens of the United States felt some improvement in the quality of their lives. Yet, the strategies and techniques, which Clinton administration employed were often inconsistent with each other, thus, they did not reach the goals, which were initially set. Another point, which the author makes, Albert Gore (the major ideologists of the reinvention) and his supporters did not develop clear vision, and thus they had to face many unexpected obstacles.

The main thesis, which Donald Kettl puts forward, is that such restructuring can never be fully implemented if it comes from top to bottom; on the contrary, it is a two-sided process, which necessitates collaboration of both the government and low-standing officials (Kettl, 1994, p. 43). Besides, the reforms are very unlikely to be put into practice, if they are not supported by the public, so it is of the crucial importance to win the confidence of American people, without whom the state becomes utterly senseless. According to the author, one of the underlying causes of failure, was that the president administration did not secure citizens support. On the whole, we may say that this book provides deep insights into the process of restructuring and its peculiarities. The hypothesis, which Donald Kettl proposes, is supported by statistical data, which indicates that at certain stages, the government made errors, which eventually downgraded their achievements. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this research work can prove very helpful to every student, majoring in sociology, political science, or management. However, we have so admit that some of the authors ideas seem to be rather controversial, especially it concerns his views on “customer-oriented state”.

Donald Kettl believes that the reinvention of the government has many dimensions, and it is possible to single out many aspects or stressing problems that should be addressed by the reforms. While describing the policies, pursued by Bill Clinton and Al Gore, the scholar finds a very interesting way to describe their main objective. He says that they wanted to create “a more customer-oriented government” (Kettl, 1994, p. 28).

Naturally, this definition is very original, because it throws a new light on the relations between the countrys citizens and the state, itself. Nonetheless, it is worth mentioning that such approach can be easily questioned, because the customer may choose from different options, especially, if we are speaking about competitive market. In this case, one can hardly observe any competence and the state can dictate its terms to the citizens. The thing is that under certain occasions, the government can function almost independently, irrespective of the citizens needs and demands. The reforms, carried out in the United States, were primarily aimed at improving the quality of the services, which the state provides to its clients (citizens), but due to some mistakes in the organization this reforms were not put into practice as efficiently as it could be. It should be taken into account the scholar does not downgrade the net effect of the policies, yet he accurately points out their drawbacks and outlines possible ways of avoiding them. We would not make far-fetched statement that similar attempts to reinvent the government of the Unites States will be made in the near future, and the tips, given by the author in his work are almost invaluable.

While describing the measures, taken by Clinton administration, Donald Kettl often uses rather commercial terms. He says that the government was trying to increase its productivity. In this respect, it should be noted that there are virtually no quantitative methods that can measure such thing as the efficiency of the government. The scholar believes that even in its core, the reinvention had certain defect, in particular, the problem of evaluation, because, it is not always possible to assess the productivity by means of numerical analysis (Kettl, 1994, p 37). Partly, this is the reason why so many people including high-ranking officials think that the reinvention is impractical and it will have only detrimental results on the quality of life in the country.

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We may single out the following aspects or facets of reinvention in the United States. First and foremost, it was necessary to downsize the federal the state machinery (Kettl, 1994, p 22). Perhaps, one may say to simplify the state mechanism and make them more accessible and convenient for the general public. In early nineties, an average citizen had to overcome almost insurmountable bureaucratic difficulties. In comparison with that period, the situation has changed for the better, but it still leaves very much to be desired, because the remnants of bureaucratic machinery are still very noticeable.

In order to eliminate them, the government was forced to reduce the number of civilian officers because newly-created agencies hold every member of the personell, but this policy had far-reaching consequences: the reduction of the staff gave rise to the unemployment in the country, which in turn created some kind of vicious circle, almost impossible to break: the government tried to jobsites by expanding the federal agencies, which were previously supposed to be simplified.

The scholar argues that the administration should have focused on the qualitative changes, not quantitative ones. For example, he says that it was necessary to encourage customization in the federal agencies. Certainly, some efforts were made, but they were insufficient.

Apart from that, Donald Kettl is firmly convinced that Al Gore and his supporters did not win peoples confidence; the benefits of the reform were not made popular to the US taxpayers, that is why at some stages, appeals of the government were entirely lost upon Americans, who did not fully understood the purpose of reinvention and its positive sides.

Furthermore, the scholar presumes that these policies could have been more effective, if the government had been unanimous in its efforts. The major problem was that at some moments the actions of several federal agencies practically contradicted each other, which significantly decreased the net result. Moreover, the legislative acts, proposed by Al Gore and his team were animatedly debated by the Republican Party, although there was almost no reasonable ground for the rejection of these laws.

Donald Kettl places special emphasis on the idea of political unanimity, because without it any political or administrative reform will yield no benefit, even if it is constructive. Certainly, one cannot say that the author specifically focuses on this particular aspect, but it is possible to deduce from his argument that the reforms could have lived up the expectations, if political leaders could have set aside their private interests. Overall, we need to say that the failure of the Reinvention can be ascribed to some objectives and subjective reasons. The first group includes failures in the planning, whereas the second one comprises political controversies and the difficulties, connected with them.

According to Donald Kettl, the process of restructuring can be subdivided into several stages or phases, which he calls in a very interesting way 1) Works Better, Costs Less, 2) What Should Government Do?; 3) Search for Political Relevance (Kettle, 1994, p. 32). To some extent each title depicts the purpose, which the presidents team wanted to reach. Naturally, one cannot say that this division is the only one acceptable, but it seems that such approach helps to get a clear understanding of the reinvention and its essence.

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As it has been said earlier, the government wanted to simplify the state mechanisms; this simplification served several purposes: first, it made the services of federal agencies more available to the public, and secondly, it allowed to reduce the countrys expenses. At first glance, such method may seem to be quite reasonable, because its obvious impacts are quite attractive, and some bureaucratic barriers can be overcome by the reduction of the staff in federal agencies, but it also entails unemployment. According to Donald Kettl, thousands of federal employees were dismissed. Moreover, in accordance with the Federal Streamlining Act, which was signed into law in 1994, every federal agency was obliged to adapt itself to the customers (or citizens) needs. As the author says it was obliged to customize itself. Again, we need to acknowledge that some aspects of this law were not developed to perfection (Kettl, 1994, p. 35).

First, it should be borne in mind that at that time federal institutions were not quite ready for such change. They were not used to treating the countrys citizens as customers or clients. Such transition was almost inconceivable to them. Donald Kettl suggests that some preliminary measures should have been taken, before restructuring and the implementation of reforms, namely providing extra training to the government officials and employees. Another aspect, which should be discussed, is the attitude of the federal agencies towards the customization. In the overwhelming majority of cases, every person is inclined to resent any sudden or unexpected changes. This is why many federal officials looked at these innovations with some apprehension, uncertainty or even fear.

Donald Kettl sets the stress on the gradualness of this process. One simply could not expect quick results from these reforms, but Clinton administation focused mostly on short term achievements and forgot about long-standing objectives, which made their efforts less effective.

Besides, many workers, who were working in the state sector, could not adjust themselves to such relations, because such new approach requires special training, which was obviously lacking. This is why at the second and third stages, Clinton administration had to face severe protests of the Republicans and certain discontent of the general public. The author believes that the government could have found more optimal ways of implementing its policies. In particular, he speaks about some methods of stimulation, which could have encourage federal and officers to customize their work. His suggestion seems to be quite prudent because any person is more likely to act more effectively, if he or she knows that his efforts will be rewarded. Apparently, the then administration did not share his views on this question and preferred more categorical or even imperative form: federal agencies were just forced to re-organize, and eventually, the reinvention of the government did not fully cope with the assigned task.

Again, we should not forget that Donald Kettl does not think these reforms were unnecessary or useless, the scholar advocates them but he also says that from the very beginning the reinventions of the government committed a vey serious error; they did not make their objectives clear to the public.

In his opinion, they made American citizens mere observers of the procedure, whereas they should be active participants of the reform. The author constructs his argument in the following way: he says that if the citizen is viewed as a customer or client, he or she should definitely take part in the reinvention. He says that clients usually collaborate with service-providers in various ways. They not only receive their services but evaluate the quality of their companys work and sometimes make rather helpful suggestions (Kettle, 1994, p. 48). Donald Kettl thinks that the reformers did not take these factors into consideration.

It stands to reason that the authors argument has many reasonable points, but it is not quite clear how we can call federal agencies “customer-oriented”. If we try to discuss this issue within the commercial framework, we should first speak about competence, because a client is entitled to decline the services of the company, if he or she is dissatisfied with their quality. The question arises is possible for decline the services of federal agencies and do without them. Certainly, sometimes, a citizen can act in this way but such cases are very rare and not always legal. Thus, it is quite possible for us to say that the formulation customer-oriented is not always applicable to state machinery.

To conclude, in his book Reinventing Government, Donald takes a very close look at such phenomenon as the reinvention of the government, and the difficulties, which arise in connection with these reforms. He believes that in early nineties American government should have paid more attention to the qualitative changes in their work. He stresses the importance of public support, regarding it as one of the necessary conditions for the success of the program. Nevertheless, we need to mention his concept of customer-oriented government, because it its essence, it is rather controversial.

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Donald F. Kettl, National Performance Review (U.S.), Brookings Institution (1994).

Reinventing government?: appraising the National Performance Review. Center for Public Management, Brookings Institution.

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