How the Government Is Trying to Start Taking Itself Seriously

When Raanan Dinur wants to demonstrate the inadequacy of how Israel's governments make resolutions, the outgoing director-general of the Prime Minister's Office points to bread subsidies.

As a staple, bread is subsidized to assure that everybody can eat it. The state subsidizes a range of products, including rolls and Shabbat challah.

But in practice, the bread subsidy only helps about 30% of the poor because the rest of them prefer pita over bread, and the flat pocket-breads aren't subsidized.

"What you wind up with is resolutions that aren't based on data that would have supported the resolutions," says Dinur.

More simply, the government is amateurish and unprofessional in its work. This slipshod attitude touches on the highest levels of government: the very government resolutions themselves.

"The government doesn't take its own resolutions seriously anymore," says Dinur. "It understands that a large part of its decisions aren't carried out in any case. Since that's how it is, it doesn't take care to formulate the government resolutions carefully."

Bills are advanced without any mention of what they will cost to implement. No alternatives are proposed, Dinur says. No mechanisms for their execution are elaborated and there are no criteria for follow-up. "These working methods have reduced government service to the point of an inability to serve the public," Dinur says.

Is it true that most government resolutions are never carried out?

There's an urban myth that 80% of the government's decisions are made in vain. But nobody's ever done a statistical analysis to see if that's true, in part because so many resolutions are formulated so that it's impossible to monitor their execution.

Nor can we state here that X percent of decisions are pointless. But we certainly can state that the direction is clear.

The policy planning department at the Prime Minister's Office, unquestionably the most important legacy Ehud Olmert and Dinur left, set out to do that very thing: check government resolutions.

The Olmert government made 4,500 resolutions. The policy planning department found that most of the decisions aren't slated for execution anyway, so their execution can't be tracked. They found that 45% of the government's resolutions simply state the government's position regarding private-member bills raised in the Knesset, and 13% simply constitute approval of laws. Of the remaining 42%, many touch on current affairs:trips abroad by ministers, formal approvals, and appointments.

Once you weed out all those, you find that resolutions actually slated for execution are just 23% of all decisions the government makes.

Ergo, the surmise that 80% of all government resolutions are hot air is probably really just an urban myth. In practice, only 23% of government resolutions are slated for execution anyway, so the proportion of useless resolutions is probably greater than 80%. The policy planning office is now girding its loins to see how many of the 23% are actually executed.

While about it, new rules have been set for the submission of proposed resolutions. From now on, any draft resolution that will cost more than NIS 30 million to implement must be submitted with the goals intended to be achieved, a schedule for planning and execution, and criteria for keeping track of execution. Finally, we find accountability: the draft has to say who's in charge of execution.

The aggressive therapy the government is undergoing regarding the way it formulates resolutions isn't ending there. The ministries are involved too. "Instilling a culture and planning processes for planning, control and measurement" - that's what the policy planning department calls it. It means that for the last two years the ministries have been creating orderly working plans, including goals and ways to measure achievement of those goals.

"Most government bodies have no long-term planning at all, or clear policies and goals," says an adviser to the government. "Even those that do have policy don't know how to implement it. They don't know how to translate the desired objective, such as excellence in education, into a system of working plans with goals, measurement and monitoring."

That difference, between the desired goal and ability to reach it, is what the policy department is trying to close.

The job is as vast as the gap. The ministries have to start Planning. They have to learn how to break down a Plan into Goals. They have to learn how to set Criteria to judge whether the Goals have been reached.

They also have to make a mental leap and realize that a ministry isn't measured by inputs (how much budget it can grab, and so on) but by output (how it uses that budget for the greater public good).

The Prime Minister's Office has been publishing policy goals and plans on its Web site. It wants the public to be able to measure whether the ministries really are serving it. The hope is that Israel's government will achieve the same level of performance as the American one, where each government body sets its objectives, in terms of value to the public, not spending. Each year, its success in achieving its goals is announced.

Last year was the first in which Israel's ministries published working plans with measurable goals. That achieved the following: The policy planning department says that 50% of the goals the ministries set for themselves last year were achieved in full, 25% were fulfilled in part and 25% were missed.

It's a good start.