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Fixing a Broken Government in the Information Age

by Larry English

Originally published May 13, 2009

Change is here and now with the historic election results. As President Obama and his team have reached the 100-day marker, it is clear we have challenges in making the transformation of government and its programs. One important area that Obama and team must address is the government’s information processes. These processes create information required by federal agencies to operate their programs and the processes that provide information to business, society and other government entities. Poor quality information processes create defective information that causes downstream processes to fail, with high costs of recovering from the process failure and the ensuing “information scrap and rework.”

In all the discussions about the failure of the financial sector, I have not heard or read a discussion of one of the major root causes – lack of quality information that would have revealed where the financial sector’s real problems were, so they could have addressed them before the meltdown occurred. To be sure, executive “greed” was a major cause in the failure of the industry – that must be addressed as well. As a consultant, I have been brought into a number of financial institutions to help solve their information quality issues. Some of these institutions had no idea how to value the loans in their bundled investment packages.

While consulting to one of the federal agencies, we discovered it had overpaid $1.7 billion to unqualified recipients and had underpaid qualified recipients by an additional $600 million – a total of $2.3 billion misspent. That is equivalent of giving more than $1,000 to each of the estimated 2 million people in Washington for Obama’s inauguration. Beyond this, agencies have squandered more than $1 billion on information systems that failed to meet requirements or got scrapped. Based on 20 years of working with business and government clients, I can say that most organizations squander from 20% to more than 30% of their operating revenue or budget in “information scrap and rework” – a pure waste of our taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars. Some federal agencies waste up to 40% of their operating budget in information scrap and rework. As we try to make government more effective and efficient, the best costs to cut are the costs associated with the waste caused by broken program and information processes. We can solve this by error-proofing our program and information processes.

To be sure, many huge problems face us. We can solve them, but we must have accurate, complete and timely information to identify root causes and to improve business and information processes to put the government back to work effectively.

After World War II, Japan, taught by America’s own quality gurus, W. Edwards Deming and Joseph M. Juran, created the first quality revolution. Japan had made quality a national agenda item of its government, led by Kaoru Ishikawa, the great Japanese quality guru. Even as we speak, Korea and other Asian countries appear to be emerging as the next quality revolutionary force.

Will America Be Left Behind?

It is time for America to get on the new Total Information Quality ManagementRevolution to rid government and industry of the waste caused by broken information processes and the costs of recovery from the process failure and information scrap and rework. The same principles that led to the total quality management revolution in manufacturing are the same principles required to bring in the Total Information Quality Management (TIQM) revolution in the information age.

Here’s how we can do it:
  1. Appoint a TIQM czar to lead the federal government in bringing the principles of Total Information Quality Management to all government entities.

  2. Make TIQM an agenda item for every federal department and agency, and promote it to be on every business leadership agenda as well.

  3. Provide broad and deep training in Total Information Quality Management.

  4. Empower our civil servants to continually improve their information processes.

  5. Hold departments and agencies accountable for the quality of all information required to operate the programs effectively – not just the influential information provided to the public as required in the OMB Section 515 “Information Quality Act.”
If Japan could transform the industrial age by applying total quality management principles and processes to manufacturing quality, America can – and must – transform government and industry in the information age by applying Total Information Quality Management to their information processes. Without sustainable information quality, America risks falling further behind. Every billion dollars of waste eliminated shows up as half a billion dollars in surplus that can be spent to further improve government.


  • Larry EnglishLarry English

    Larry is President and Principal of INFORMATION IMPACT International Inc., and author of the widely acclaimed Improving Data Warehouse and Business Information Quality. His forthcoming book, Information Quality Applied: Best Practices for Business Information, Processes and Systems, will be available in mid-2009. He provides consulting and training to help information professionals increase their value to the enterprise and provides certification in his TIQM Quality System methodology. For details, email TIQMCert@infoimpact.com or visit www.infoimpact.com.

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