Netanyahu Spearheading Plan to Improve Government Services

Changes sought are designed to jump-start government operations and improve government services, officials say.

Four separate committees chaired by senior civil service officials have been working in recent months on reforming the government sector. The changes are designed to jump-start government operations and improve government services, officials said on Wednesday.

"There is no doubt that government's ability to plan and carry out its plans is not good and must be improved," Harel Locker, director-general of the Prime Minister's Office, acknowledged. "Future planning will be much more integrated among all the players in the government, giving it a joint overall perspective."

A senior official expressed optimism that the current effort will actually change things. "When I see that the directors-general from the Finance Ministry, Prime Minister's Office and Civil Service Commission, along with the deputy attorney general, head of the treasury's budget division and other deputies are involved in discussions at least twice a week, I can say with certainty that something is happening here," the official said.

There is no final target date for the project, but an official who has been involved in the committees' work said the intent is to have conclusions and recommendations developed by October or November, after the Jewish high holidays.

Speaking about the importance of the reforms, one official said: "Over the past 35 years, the public [governmental] sector has gotten weaker and this situation enabled the tycoons to flourish. We're going to change this now." Among the goals of the process is to give civil service employees clear paths to promotion, a sense of mission, professional training and rewards for excellence. Prof. Momi Dahan, who heads the School of Public Policy and Government at Hebrew University, said that while there was room for improvement, he was "not joining the chorus of shouting all the time saying that the civil service in Israel is bad. It's very important not to unnecessarily beat up the civil service, which also has excellent parts."

Dahan said one of the problems in evaluating the civil service here is how to evaluate the quality of its services. "When you want to examine if a [commercial] firm has been successful, you analyze its profits and losses, its share price, whether it is repaying its debts and so forth. But it's very difficult to find the measure that will faithfully reflect the quality of the civil service," he said.

About a year ago, the Trajtenberg Committee, which was convened following last summer's social justice protests, identified what it said were major failings in how the government functioned. "The existence of a quality public sector, which functions efficiently and fairly, is an essential condition to prosperity and social and economic development," the committee wrote.

The committee identified major priorities required in reforming government service: strengthening its planning and policy-making capacities, with an emphasis on a medium and long-term national socioeconomic strategy; enhancing the ability of government to execute policy; improving budgeting procedures, including enhanced cooperation among the various ministries; reforming the Civil Service Commission to provide improved staff development; and rewarding excellence based on measurable criteria.

One senior official involved in the work of the four committees currently at work said the group invited input not only from members of the civil service but also from the business community and public at large. Many of the same government officials sit on all four committees dealing with the reform plan. The expectation that each of the committees will submit its recommendations after the Jewish high holidays should not be affected by external events such as the prospect that elections might be moved forward, one official said. Locker said that when all of the efforts are put together, the result is "dramatic reform."