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Make the government smarter

By Jennie L. Phipps · Bankrate.com
Monday, October 29, 2012
Posted: 4 pm ET

As baby boomers age, demand for public services will increase. By 2025 -- 13 years from now when many of us will be living in retirement on fixed incomes -- consultancy Accenture estimates that government at all levels -- from municipalities on up -- will have to spend an additional $940 billion annually to pay for the services that an aging population will require.

This increase is coming at a time when governments are responding to the demand to control taxes by cutting back on personnel. In my neck of the woods that has already meant shortened hours, longer waits, fewer services and a general grumpiness among our public servants. Apparently I'm not the only one who has experienced this. Accenture surveyed people ages 50 to 64 and found that about 70 percent said they were dissatisfied with government services, with only 27 percent saying that they believed that government is capable of delivering services that meet their needs and expectations.

If you plan to rely soon on Social Security and Medicare, this is a significant retirement planning dilemma. Fortunately, Accenture has an easy fix. It calculates that if the level of public sector productivity rose just 1 percent, the entire problem -- about $1 trillion cumulative -- would go away.

I mentioned this to the guy behind the counter at the post office this morning, and he told me that I didn't know what I was talking about. That he was already being asked to do twice as much as he used to do, and how much could one body actually accomplish?

Using technology and the increased efficiency that it brings, public employees will be able to accomplish a lot more than they do now, says Brian Moran, global director for Accenture's Delivering Public Service for the Future program. "Shift the management model to reward productivity," says Moran. "Integrate good technology and self service into the process."

Moran doesn't see this as revolutionary. He says it simply requires bringing how the public sector operates more in line with what is already happening in the private sector. "It is only 1 percent. It is just getting on track a little bit," he says, "but it offers tremendous financial potential."

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33 Comments
Charphi
October 30, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Everyone needs to understand what's really happening today in this country. The top .05% are looking to control the masses and basically impoverish them into subserviance. If you even need social security to help live, you are already in the group to be targeted for elimination by the plutocrats. Wake up, people!

Norm from GA
October 30, 2012 at 2:58 pm

At least at the Federal level, there are attempts to increase efficiencies in ways you seem to imply.

The IRS chief recently bragged that the vast numbers of filer using electronic files has reduced the cost per return to a matter of cents, rather than the dollars to pay someone to enter data typed or written on paper forms. Apparently they haven't heard of optical character recognition (OCR) software that has been around for a couple of decades, which would have let them scan in written data without manual processing..

Likewise, Office of Personnel Management, the Federal personnel office, has decided to use triage to process retirement applications, putting the more complex ones in a general pile, while fast-tracking the simplest ones, instead of doing them all first-in/first-out. This would not only encourage retiree-wannabees to be more careful in their application preparation, thus increasing efficiency, but the workload could be better distributed among the workers based on experience and expertise.

But, of course, the only true metric of efficiency is not “doing more with less” but “doing more with fewer,” and even just centimating an Federal agency’s workforce nearly always takes a literal act of Congress.

Shawn
October 30, 2012 at 2:54 pm

@Carrie: Regarding your comment about cutting off your benefits at the point of what you've paid in seems a bit ridiculous. First off SS and MC are considered Insurances, and by definition you pay a premium from your pay as well as your employer. Based on your comment if someone pays in until retirement age and doesn't use say their life insurance, then they should be able to collect all their premiums they have paid in over the years and use it to re-invest into another plan or keep as they see fit. My suggestion would be to have the Fed gov run SS and MC much like the private sector does with ins premiums and invest into the stock market or money markets to keep it fluid and cut spending on capital hill as in politicians salaries, defense budget, and why do we pay career politicians for lifetime salaries? There's a lot more fat to trim in DC then starting with SS and MC.

Heidi
October 30, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Suggesting that public employees improve "1%" is insane. How should police officers improve that magic 1%? Especially when most forces are down 5% of the officers? Firefighters? Perhaps if they got there later, the buildings would have burned down more and so the pump guys wouldn't have to use as much water?

Let's be clear. The employment gains in the last few quarters are coming in the private sector, as government has continuted to "trim fat" in terms of employees. You folks pick -- would you rather have your garbage picked up every other week or quick debris removal after a storm? Police that actively patrol your community or easy availability to the community website so you can pay bills on line? Higher taxes or more fees?

DanRemaley
October 30, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Social Security is certainly a scheme. I have made twice the income of my wife over our lifetime, yet I'll only get $500 more per month, not twice as much. It's been expanded over the years to cover many things yet the threshold dollar limit for contributions is what . . . $90,000.
I agree place all federal workers on it and watch how fast it gets fixed!

CONNIE
October 30, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Actually Mike a lot of Congress under the Federal Retirement System pays into a basic plan and social security; those under Civil Service Retirement System pay a % of their salary towards their retirement 7.5% of their pay; both plans pay into Medicare and Congress with the exception of a few positions also pays a portion of their Health Benefits just like you do.

Carrie
October 30, 2012 at 1:57 pm

To those complaining about social security, it was *never* intended to be the sole provider of retirement income. Go back to the original inception documents and news stories. It was always intended to be a supplement to good retirement planning. It's a well-traveled myth that people should be able to live on their SS income.

And most Americans will get far more in inflation-adjusted dollars from SS than they ever paid in. Some who die younger won't but most will. So, while it's true that you paid into it, how about we cut off your benefits when you've taken out what you put in?

Carrie

Carrie
October 30, 2012 at 1:55 pm

So very much to correct in these comments, but I have to pick on Connie (or the USPS first).

1. The USPS most definitely *is* supported by the federal government in the form of exclusive access, via federal law, to private mailboxes.

2. I went to the post office a few weeks ago to mail something express post. It was 12:15 pm when I arrived, and there were ten customers waiting in front of me. Two clerks were present and worked as slowly as physically possible for the next 42 minutes, at which time it was finally my turn at the window. While I know post office clerks bear the brunt of some pretty ridiculous customers' questions and anger, to a one, I have never witnessed a clerk work faster than absolute minimum speed. I've dealt with the post office from a business standpoint and as a private citizen and I am always in awe of how slowly they work. If I worked that slowly at my job, I would be fired. (Or have to work 12 hours a day to get my work finished.)

Carrie

MIKE
October 30, 2012 at 1:47 pm

If government elected personel were required to have medicare and social security like the rest of hard working America instead
of thier golden programs for health care and retirement the problems would get fixed in a hurry. Retirement programs for state, county and local employees with thier ability to spike hours to increase retirement pay should be a crime. They keep calling social security an entitlement. Entitlement my aXX both
me and my employer have been paying into these programs for my entire working live and if it is an entitlement give me my money
with intrest.

connie
October 30, 2012 at 1:46 pm

COLA'S ARE DETERMINED BY A FORMULA THAT WAS SET UP MANY YEARS AGO. THE ONLY REASON WE RECEIVED A 3.8% COLA DURING BUSH WAS BECAUSE THE COST OF LIVING BASED ON THIS FORMULA HAD GONE UP SO HIGH. WE ALSO STOPPED RECEIVING COLA'S DURING REAGAN YEARS AS HE DELAYED PAYMENT AND OR THEY TOOK COLA'S AWAY. LET'S NOT BLAME OBAMA FOR THE SMALL COLA THAT WE ARE TO RECEIVE IN JAN.; IT CAN STILL BE STOPPED OR DELAYED OR COMPLETELY TAKEN OFF BY CONGRESS OR THE PRESIDENT. WHAT THE GOVT GIVES YOU THE GOVT CAN TAKE AWAY.