NARA and the IRS

Charles O. Rossotti was the Internal Revenue Commissioner from 1997 to 2002.  In his book, Many Unhappy Returns, he tells the story of “one man’s quest to turn around the most unpopular organization in America.”

I’m always interested in reports of “lessons learned” and this is one of the best, especially as I reflect on our own transformation—how far we have come and how much farther we have to go.  Every one of Mr. Rossotti’s basic beliefs applies to our own situation.  Successful change:

  • Means improving the way an organization performs its mission on behalf of all of its stakeholders and rejecting an either/or model of performance.
  • Means getting the right people in the right jobs.
  • Requires the right measurements and incentives.
  • Depends on moving to an organizational structure, business practices, and technology that are up-to-date and aligned with the needs of customers.
  • Requires knowing what is really going on where it counts—on the front line.
  • Requires open and honest communication inside and outside the organization.
  • Requires change, not just communication about change.
  • Depends more on having the right governance, leadership, direction, and authority than on rules and mandates.
  • Has its limits—set by the broader constraints of the context within which it operates.

Customer focus, the right people, listening to the front line, excellent internal and external communication, and more action.  Sound familiar?  If you’ve been keeping up with the Transformation, this should ring some bells!  We may not be the most unpopular organization in America, but we are tied for worst place to work in the Government.  Let’s all work to turn that around.

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5 Responses to NARA and the IRS

  1. I had too many thoughts on this one to fit into a comment box. So I blogged about your post this morning! See

    There are some funny pix in there, too–of course! Oh, and you’re messing with my rebel imge, Big Dude, I can’t argue against much of what you wrote in this one, hah.


  2. Just a P.S. to say that I got a nice comment under my post this morning from former Nixon chief of staff John H. Taylor (who also served as Nixon Foundation executive director). He says he wishes he would have gotten to know Jim Hastings better. John and I have debated quite a bit the extent to which my cohort’s insularity made it easier to misunderstand or demonize us. He and I really got to know each other through our web interactions in recent years in part because we developed ever expanding trust zones and shared an increasing amount of information about ourselves.. A real success story, which is why I focus so much on use of pictures, anecdotes, anything I can to humanize those of us who work in Fedland!


  3. Question for the site administrator: I’m curious. The mobile version of this site displays date and time of posted comments. The standard version does not. When the blog first went went live (hmm, my memory is around April 2010) it did but that changed with a redesign that occurred soon thereafter.. I no longer worry about anyone criticizing me for when and how I post comments especially since this is a Fedland site and I’m in Fedland, too. Much less angsty now. But as an historian, I rather like seeing when comments went up. Back in the days when i was more skittish, I rather liked being able to say, hey, I was at home when this went up, whatever. (Yeah, I know, most people don’t have Maarja-type issues regarding previous IG complaints, LOL.) I know there are pros and cons to revealing such data; guess I’m just a bit curious as to the reasoning for the difference between the mobile and standard version. (I’m pulling things for xeroxing today, idle minds, whatever!)


  4. Kelly Osborn says:

    Hi Maarja,

    Thanks for pointing that out! It was just an oversight that came from different teams working on different blogs. I generally prefer to see time-stamps, too.

    Web Developer for NARA


  5. Hi, Kelly. Cool to hear back from you so quickly, informatively, and cordially. I can be a bit of a gadfly at times, I should admit that up front. I’ll try not to bother y’all too much.

    Oh and it’s super cool that you already did the fix, w00t! Much appreciated.


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