The Gemba Panta Rei blog has an interesting post on lean government, specifically discussing the successes at the postal services in Denmark and Canada. Japan has also embarked on a lean postal service project, aided by senseis from Toyota. This effort will accelerate with Prime Minister Koizumi's re-election.
Lean in government is often mistaken for "pork busting"... the identification and occasional elimination of wasteful projects and programs. Much of this pork is added as "earmarks" to large spending bills, such as the recent transportation bill, and can include projects as small as a few thousand dollars to study obscure animals to almost a billion to build a "bridge to nowhere" to connect a couple of tiny towns in Alaska.
Pork is taking a welcome beating lately, with spending being scrutinized in a post-Katrina world. Longtime pork foes like Citizens Against Government Waste and Taxpayers for Common Sense also are engaged in the fight, with CAGW urging lawmakers to sign a "Hurricane Katrina No Pork Pledge". And the mainstream media are publicizing, and even participating in, the PorkBusters campaign. Some bloggers are teaming up or have even come up with their own revised budgets.
But cutting pork is not necessarily "Lean." Lean is about cutting process waste by eliminating non-value-added activities. I would hazard a guess that far more money could be saved by simply improving efficiency... perhaps enough to build several bridges to nowhere. The Skeptical Optimist has a great analysis of federal spending, showing the differences between "money well spent", "pork but not waste", "waste but not pork", and "pork." Pork is not necessarily waste. A program to study an obscure reptile may be pork because it does not belong in a transportation bill, but it could still yield benefit.
The most intriguing part of the article is a comparison of two alternatives to reduce federal spending. The first alternative identifies pork and waste and cuts that from the budget, resulting in less spending but no change in bureaucratic processes... "less of the same." The second alternative similarly identifies pork and waste, but also looks at accountability and process improvements.
"When we “cut” the budget (as a % of GDP) without changing the processes, incentives, and controls in budget making and money spending, the guaranteed result will be “less of the same.” Alternatively, if we effectively reform the government’s processes, measures, controls, and accountabilities, we’ll get better results from the same level of spending. (And if we can grow the economy faster than deficits cause the debt to grow, our financial health improves—in spite of the deficits—as you already know if you’ve been watching the National Debt Thermometer at this website.)"
Porkbusting may be in vogue and can create significant savings, but the long-term solution to government spending problems lies with using Lean to improve process efficiency.