There’s a long history of presidential administrations looking to the private sector for advice on how to fix government—as well as examples of those efforts amounting to little more than unrealized recommendations. In 1982, Ronald Reagan established the Grace Commission, led by businessman J. Peter Grace, which resulted in a set of recommendations to rid government of waste and inefficiency. “Some recommendations were adopted,” according to a report from the IBM Center for the Business of Government and the Partnership for Public Service. But “the most significant recommendations required congressional action and were not implemented.”
Other administrations have attempted to improve government by modernizing it, a goal the Trump administration is also promising to achieve. According to a Elaine Kamarck, an aide to President Bill Clinton who helped implement a reform project known as the National Performance Review, and later re-named the National Partnership for Reinventing Government, the NPR helped bring the federal government into “the Internet Age.” It launched “the federal government’s first, comprehensive web portal,” Kamarck told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in 2013, which was designed to “offer citizens one stop access to government information.”
The Obama administration also focused on modernization as part of its own government reform agenda, including an effort to update information technology.
Shrinking the size of government, and cutting costs, has been another target of past administrations echoed by the Trump White House, which released an executive order aimed at eliminating redundancy in the federal government. During his first year in office, George W. Bush outlined a call for reform rooted in a “market-based” approach, and announced a “Management Agenda,” which the administration billed as “an aggressive strategy for improving management of the federal government.” As part of that, the Bush administration saved taxpayers roughly $7 billion by encouraging public-private sector competition, according to a 2008 assessment published in the Public Administration Review.
The Clinton administration's reforms also resulted in a cost-savings in the billions of dollars, according to the IBM Center for the Business of Government and Partnership for Public Service report, and included scaling back the size of the federal workforce.
It can be hard to predict how a massive federal bureaucracy will respond to efforts to change it, however. And it may be difficult to avoid unforeseen repercussions. Job cuts under the Clinton administration created “unintended consequences, such as weakening the acquisition workforce and diminishing the expertise and capacity of professionals in federal human resources and other management rules,” according to the IBM Center for the Business of Government and the Partnership for Public Service.