How do you reform the federal government? Anyone remember Al Gore and Bill Clinton trying to reduce the footprint of federal agencies through Reinventing Government? Peter Drucker liked the effort but knew it was going to fail:
The first reaction in a situation of disarray is always to do what Vice President Gore and his associates are now doing–patching. It always fails. The next step is to rush into downsizing. Management picks up a meat-ax and lays about itself indiscriminately. This is what the Republicans and (as of last December) President Clinton now promise. In the past fifteen years one big American company after another has done this–among them IBM, Sears, and GM. Each first announced that laying off 10,000 or 20,000 or even 50,000 people would lead to an immediate turnaround. A year later there had, of course, been no turnaround, and the company laid off another 10,000 or 20,000 or 50,000–again without results. In many if not most cases, downsizing has turned out to be something that surgeons for centuries have warned against: “amputation before diagnosis.” The result is always a casualty.
But there have been a few organizations–some large companies (GE, for instance) and a few large hospitals (Beth Israel in Boston, for instance)–that, without fanfare, did turn themselves around, by rethinking themselves. They did not start out by downsizing. In fact, they knew that the way to get control of costs is not to start by reducing expenditures but to identify the activities that are productive, that should be strengthened, promoted, and expanded. Every agency, every policy, every program, every activity, should be confronted with these questions: “What is your mission?” “Is it still the right mission?” “Is it still worth doing?” “If we were not already doing this, would we now go into it?” This questioning has been done often enough in all kinds of organizations–businesses, hospitals, churches, and even local governments–that we know it works.
Does Pope Francis need Mr. Drucker?
The news that the Vatican has suspended an external audit might appear to be only a minor administrative matter, interesting only to accountants. But as an indicator of the trends in Rome today, it is as significant of Amoris Laetitia. It is, in my view (and I am by no means a financial analyst!), a sign of crisis in this pontificate.
Pope Francis was elected by the College of Cardinals to bring reform to the Vatican, after the “Vatileaks” scandal and revelations of financial corruption had marred the pontificate of Benedict XVI. Three years later, the “Vatileaks II” trial is providing new drama fit for the tabloids, and the most critical step in a sweeping plan for financial reform has been put on hold. Has anything really changed?
There has been no explanation for the decision to suspend the audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers, which was to have been the first external audit ever conducted of Vatican financial affairs. For that matter there has not been any official announcement of the decision, which only came to light when the National Catholic Register reported on a memorandum issued to offices of the Roman Curia by the Secretariat of State. Even Cardinal George Pell, who is (at least theoretically) the Vatican’s top official for financial matters, told the Register that he was “a bit surprised” by the decision.
This is the way the Vatican has worked for ages—and, apparently, the way it still works. A vitally important decision is made quietly: without public announcement, without explanation, without accountability. The Secretariat of State, which supervises the work of all other agencies, countermands an order from other Vatican offices, even if those offices have (on paper) the proper authority in their own particular spheres. . . .
For generations, the top officials of the Curia have answered to no one but the Pope– and even the Sovereign Pontiff, respecting their dignity as Princes of the Church, would rarely ask detailed questions about how they handled their work. Each Vatican office operated by its own rules. So when Cardinal Pell finally conducted a systemic review of Vatican finances, he uncovered a rat’s nest of unsupervised fundraising and spending, separate accounts, no-bid contracts, undervalued properties, and sweetheart deals: the sort of routine corruption that saps the strength of an institution. He prescribed strong medicine, and not surprisingly, some of the patients resisted the treatment.
So now the treatment has been suspended. The old guard has won at least a partial victory; the impetus for Vatican reform has been stalled.
All that social teaching and subsidiarity. Maybe some ecclesial teaching is in order.