A recent survey of government employees revealed that federal workers have a strong desire, and many ideas, on how government needs to be restructured in order to significantly improve performance and reduce costs.

Moreover, the survey found that budget cuts tend to drive agency personnel to take a number of proactive steps, including:

  • Find cost savings (63%)
  • Review spending to look for unnecessary expenses (59%)
  • Review low-priority expenses (59%)
  • Identify redundant opportunities for consolidation (54%)

The survey, conducted by MeriTalk and SAS Inc., (“Taxing Times: The Federal Efficiency Opportunity,”) also documents who in government is stopping the changes needed for performance breakthroughs.

As many of us have observed, the problem seems to be that leaders don’t put programs in place to capture the benefits of these initiatives. For instance, 69% of the respondents noted that their agency do not have a formal cost savings program in place and more than a quarter state that their management has not made cost savings a priority.

What’s ironic: The stereotypical bureaucrats are not line workers, but leaders.

The survey found the following key barriers to implementing performance and cost saving ideas:

• “Sometimes you need to invest upfront to save money down the road, and that can be difficult to sell.”

• “The bureaucracy of the system frequently prohibits new methods. Too many levels of approval and different views on efficiency create strained decisions.”

• “Politicians protecting jobs in their districts. Employees trying to protect their own jobs. Management’s failure to properly manage change

I think that the common view is that government employees fight efforts to cut the cost of government and get better results.

This survey shows that’s wrong, and that there is a strong willingness of government employees to bust silos and get rid of redundancy or integrate when it frees up resources that can be better used for program results. The barrier is getting support from political and career executives.

To understand the potential opportunity, consider the excess spending on redundant programs.

On May 25, the Comptroller General testified that the Government Accountability Office’s initial analysis identified billions of dollars that could be saved each year if duplicative programs were rationalized (GAO-11-318SP, March 1, 2011). As GAO noted, the situation has become so bad, that taxpayers are paying billions unnecessarily to create more and more new programs that address today’s needs while rarely canceling or fixing old programs.

Of course it’s not that easy for government to change. Congress has to lead this change, as no single government agency owns enough of the problem to fix it.

But absent a focus on redundant programs, Congress would likely continue to respond to poor performance by creating new programs given its constituent service focus.

Now, it is clear that deficit reduction requires execution of a plan to do more with less. The line employees are ready, but is the leadership there too?

Mark A. Forman was the first U.S. Administrator For E-Government and Information Technology at the White House Office of Management and Budget during the George W. Bush Administration, and former Partner at KPMG.