Relics of Government Reforms Past


With such intense scrutiny directed at the current state of government reform and Presidential Transitions, I’ve found myself wondering how much of this ground has been covered before.

With a little searching, it turns out that there are pieces strewn about the legal and legislative terrain, leftovers of transformations either competed or abandoned, striking me as a bit like a wrench left sitting next to a leaking faucet.

Throughout the 1990s, government reform efforts saw the “Reinventing Government” initiative, spearheaded by Vice President Gore. This effort was largely focused on government waste and management issues, and had very little to do with Sunlight’s issues or technology. A good review of the initiative is available from Brookings, who published a 5 year review of the project.

The mid nineties also saw the death of ACUS, the Administrative Conference of the United States, which coordinated regulatory and administrative procedures across government. OMB watch covered the demise of ACUS, and recent efforts to resuscitate it.

Similarly, from 1959 to 1996 the US had an Advisory Committee on Intergovernmental Relations, which gave recommendations and advice, working across compex jurisdictions. The Univeristy of North Texas has a great collection of ACIR documents, including this one (pdf) from 1980 on participation in American government. (h/t to Valerie Glenn.)

The Government Information Locator Service, or GILS system was set up in the 1990s, but appears to be largely ignored or ineffective, despite having a portal still set up on GPOAccess.

We’ve seen a recent attempt to revive the Office of Technology Assessment, which provided technological advice to Congress in a manner similar to what CRS does. This advice is sorely needed, and we saw a small appropriation to the GAO this last year. FAS recently released a new database of OTA reports.

Finally, the e-government act of 2002 created a temporary body called the Intergovernmental Committee on Government Information, or ICGI, which gave recommendations on implementing the e-gov act and general coordination. It appears to have been active through part of 2004, and then went silent.

With so many options for coordinating or institutionalizing advice, recommendations, and reform, the incoming Obama administration has a long history to consider, and a plethora of options at hand.

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  • Thanks for assembling all these lost and lamented government reform groups in one place.

    I was the Research Director of the Administrate Conference of the U.S., (ACUS) and also served as team leader for the Improving Regulatory Systems team of the Reinventing Government Initiative, later renamed the National Performance Review, then the National Partnership for Reinventing Government (NPRG).

    In addition to your helpful information, I thought your readers would like to know that the ACUS Recommendations and bibliography (from 1968-95) are available at
    The NPRG archives are also available from the University of North Texas site: To find all the reports, including the Improving Regulatory Systems report, click on “Library,” then “publications.”

    I remain hopeful that ACUS will be revived in the FY 2009 appropriations bill, when the new Congress convenes. For a small cost, it produced numerous bi-partisan money-saving recommendations—just the sort of program that should be attractive to the new Administration. It, along with OTA and ACIR, should have never been defunded by the 104th Congress.

  • Valerie Glenn

    UNT also has preserved the web site of Gore’s National Partnership for Reinventing Government – it’s available at, and provides access to a majority of publications produced by that body.