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Article Summary

Feldman, Barry, M. 1999. Reinventing Local Government: Beyond Rhetoric to Action. The Municipal Yearbook. Washington, DC, ICMA.

Since Osborne and Gaebler wrote Reinventing Government, there has been much debate over the need to change the way government provides services to the public. The Reinvention movement calls for empowering citizensby getting the results they value. Supporters of reinventing government want to impose private market incentives on governmental activities and encourage competition in government decision making. Much of the pressure of reinventing government has fallen on local governments, especially city managers who are called upon by city councils and citizens to create policies that reduce the cost of government. Barry Feldman, a town manager, initiated a study to find out how much the rhetoric of reinventing government has gone from academic debate to actual implementation. A survey by the ICMA was mailed nationwide to all cities with a city-manager form of government and population of 10,000 or more and the response rate was 45% or 1,276 city managers returning surveys.

On the whole, city managers support the principles of reinventing government. However, according to the survey, city managers also make distinctions between the principles of reinventing government and their actions. Feldman tried to discover if managers implemented specific programs and included money in their executive budgets for these programs. The most common actions were to institute user fees, to contract out to a third party, offer employee training on customer service and use enterprise budgets. Performance based budgeting, or shifting decision making to neighborhood groups were least common. While managers supported the principle of empowering citizens, they did not request funds to train neighborhood groups. While managers may support making government more competitive and entrepreneurial, they continue to have concerns over whether this type of system can ensure fair, competent, and honest government. The conclusion drawn from this survey is that city managers are using the principles of reinventing government by blending them into principles of traditional government.