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What is the Future of the Public Sector in Greece? Part 1

This article is the first of a two-part posting. Watch for Part 2 to be posted this Thursday, January 19th.

Arie Halachmi

In order to discuss this important question in a serious manner one must be able to assess the challenges facing Greece at the present. Put differently, one must be able to define the issues and factors that make up the reality any Greek Prime Minister, regardless of party affiliation, must face as he or she try to move the country forward. One of the most pressing issues is the economy and one of the leading factors is the unavoidable foreign scrutiny of everything that is being done by the government in terms of managing fiscal affairs and government performance. Unfortunately, no Greek leader can afford to overlook these two nor do they have too many choices about dealing with them. Like it or not, the implication of this observation is that past structure and performance level of the public sector cannot be used as a basis for designing the future of the public sector. It should be noted here that portraying the Greek reality in this way is not a judgment of the dedication or talent of government employees as a group. Rather, it is a sober realization that the country cannot support anymore the size of the government apparatus or the scope of its services and programs as we have known them until now.

The changes that must be taken place in the present, in order to assure a better future for the country, are not easy or simple in terms of their implications for the government labor force or the level and nature of public services. These changes involve, in no particular order, the following items:

Devolution—unloading selected functions of the central government by shifting the responsibility for them to provincial and local levels of government or to the private sector. This also involves replacing government regulations and protections with free markets.

Productivity—reducing the cost of labor by taking advantage of ICT, business process reengineering (BPR) and, more sophisticated strategic planning at all levels of government. This involves better and wider use of cost-accounting techniques, performance budgeting, value for money, performance measurement, post audit reviews by external bodies, better coordination across the board and, reduction of unintended duplications. Considering the economy of size Greece may contract out certain services to government agencies from other EU countries (e.g., postal services) if such practice can result in substantive savings.

Accountability—increased transparency that results from wider use of e-government, more emphasis and closer scrutiny of ethical behavior through greater involvement of citizens and civic organizations in all phases of the planning, implementation and review of government programs and corresponding data about them. In certain sensitive areas a deliberate redundancy of reviews or regulations by design should increase the likelihood of detecting loopholes that allow certain kinds of abuses. For example, oversight of banking and other financial institutions by more than one agency would be keeping each one of the involved agencies on its toes to prevent the other from exposing its weak performance. This, in turn would assure more confidence in both government oversight and the integrity of the said regulated industry.

Knowledge Management—better training and utilization of the skills and know how government employees gain and develop over time to effect strategic planning, BPR, coordination and employment practices (e.g., performance contracts). This also involves a better use of the research and training capacities of universities, private research centers, the Central School of Public Administration etc. to mobilize public management related knowledge and the continuing training of public employees.

This article is the first of a two-part posting. Watch for Part 2 to be posted this Thursday, January 19th.

Halachmi and several distinguished Greek colleagues will present a panel during the upcoming ASPA National Conference in Las Vegas, titled “Is Reorganization of the State the Answer to the Greek Crisis?” on Sunday, March 4 at 10:45am. For more information or to register visit the ASPA National Conference website.

ASPA member Arie Halachmi is the 2011 Distinguished Fulbright Professor at Linz University (Austria). He is associate director of the National Center for Public Performance (USA) and a visiting research professor at the National Center for Public Administration Research in China. Over the years, Halachmi has provided pro-bono training and consulting services to state agencies, provincial governments and local authorities in Greece.

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