5 April 2012
The Better Government Services report explores how political aspirations for greater efficiency and focus can be given administrative effect. Interestingly the Prime Minister, when setting targets last month, did not speak of effectiveness which can be regarded as analogous to pursuing outcomes. he spoke results. 
There may not be further substantive reshaping of agencies – well not before the fall out from the MFAT experience loses its news-worthiness – but there will be a drive for improving services and reducing costs  to deliver those better results.
Those notions were behind the establishment of the Government Services Agency in the United States over 60 years ago. GSA was to provide expertise in management and support to departments, centralise a specialist procurement and accommodation service, and stimulate cost minimising policies across government. It is currently one of the smallest of departments by size (12,000 civil servants) but with a budget of over $26 billion, spending $66 billion on procurement and managing $500 billion worth of federal property. It may be the model for the joined up back office that New Zealand Ministers seek.
But as a centre of excellence, this supposedly efficient back office has had a bad fall from grace recently. The GSA has been pilloried by its Inspector General for profligacy in running a training conference. A number of the top officials have gone from the agency this week and others are “on leave” according to the Washington Post.
With echoes of the CYFS at Taupo, a conference at a luxury Las Vegas hotel for 333 staff, costing almost $3,000 a head with travel and accommodation, became a media circus. The President was reportedly troubled by “excessive spending, questionable dealings with contractors,  disregard for taxpayer dollars and called for all those responsible to be held fully accountable.”
The boss fell on her sword, confessing to squandering funds. Language is now of the Inspector General being “appalled” and the President being “outraged”.
A Treasury official has been appointed to restore core principles, eliminate excessive spending and promote efficiency, with a mission ‘…to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.” Ironically just days before resigning, the predecessor was speaking at a conference  of the Department’s cost cutting, efficiency drive and delivery of cast-iron value, … “It’s what we do, and we do it well.”