The Bureau of Reclamation was originally established as part of an effort to reclaim the arid West and to ensure it an adequate water supply. Today, the Bureau is the largest wholesale supplier of water in the 17 Western States, delivering 10 trillion gallons of water annually to 30.3 million people for agricultural, municipal, and domestic uses. It provides water to 10 million acres of farmland that are responsible for the production of 60 percent of the nation's vegetables and 25 percent of the nation's fruits and nuts. In 1987, after an agency-wide assessment essentially concluded that the Bureau's original mission was completed, the Bureau faced the dual challenge of shifting its primary focus to matters of water-resource management and slimming down a bloated, inefficient bureaucracy.
Concentrated efforts at reinvention began in 1993 with the establishment of the Commissioner's Program and Organization Review Team (CPORT). This team, comprised of seven mid- and lower-level employees from all segments of the organization, reviewed the Bureau's programs and organizational structure and prepared a report detailing their findings and recommendations. After carefully considering the CPORT Report, hundreds of individual employee comments, a report by the Reclamation Employees' Organization for Ethics and Integrity, the recommendations of the Bureau's Executive Management Committee, and discussions from a Reclamation Managers Conference, Commissioner Daniel Beard published his recommendations in a "Blueprint for Reform."
The Blueprint, adopted on November 1, 1993, established contemporary program priorities, functional realignments, and streamlined operating procedures. The most significant changes included the delegation of decision-making authority to the lowest practical organizational level, a reduction in the number of supervisory personnel and regulations, and a revision of program and budget execution processes to reflect the Bureau's new mission. In April 1994, an order from the Secretary of the Interior authorized the implementation of these changes; the reorganization was completed six months later.
Since then, the Bureau has emerged as a trim, efficient organization, with redirected policies, processes, and priorities in keeping with its new focus on water-resource management. It has streamlined its staff and cut its budget: from 1993 to 1995, the Bureau reduced its workforce by 20 percent and its budget by 10 percent. It has also given its employees the authority and flexibility to innovate, by establishing area offices and delegating authority to local managers, reforming oversight mechanisms to encourage proactive measures, and eliminating 6,500 pages of outmoded rules and requirements. In order to discourage deep-seated risk-aversion among long-time employees, the Commissioner handed out "Forgiveness Coupons." Employees are free to use these coupons whenever they make a mistake, and they have to use at least two each year.
The success of the reinvention effort is already apparent. The Bureau is able to serve more constituents more efficiently. Its new program emphasizes water conservation, environmental protection, and dam safety in rural, urban, and tribal areas. Its organizational structure and formal partnerships with water users allow the Bureau to solve resource management problems cooperatively and effectively. The Bureau was able to effect such a radical change due in part to its dedication to and trust in its staff. Throughout the process, employees from all levels helped define and shape the Bureau's new roles, functions, and organization and provided consistent feedback. Where there were staff cutbacks, each employee was given intensive job placement help, career counseling, and personal support. These efforts made it possible for the Bureau to take full advantage of the knowledge and enthusiasm of its workforce, without which a drastic reinvention could not have taken place successfully.