Bangmoo Lee: The Philadelphia to Korea Performance Management Connection

July 23, 2010

By Michael Cecire (MGA '09)

Like the rest of the University, the Fels Institute draws a number of international students from different parts of the world, all bringing with them a wealth and variety of experiences to the classroom. Bangmoo Lee, who is finishing his second semester in the Fels MPA program, is a civil servant from Korea who has spent his career developing performance management programs and helping to lead the way in public administration innovations in the highest levels of the government.

Lee began his public sector career in 1999, starting at the Korean Civil Service Commission, where he was responsible for human resources management programs that touched the full span of the Korean government’s many agencies. After several years of gaining skills, experience, and responsibility, Lee was put in charge of a project to work on reforming the way the Korean government conducted human resource management in 2004. Through this agenda, Lee and his colleagues rolled out the ‘Senior Service Initiative,’ a program that created pathways for the recruitment of senior-level government executives from outside of existing public sector civil service pools. The idea was to help make government more competitive and performance-based. “The old system could not fully address challenges,” recalled Lee, whose passion for performance government is both admirable and infectious. “It was the most comprehensive change of the [Korean] human resource system since 1948.”

But as many public sector employees know, change doesn’t always come easily. Many senior government officials, who had become accustomed to the traditional HR regime, openly opposed the program, making it difficult to implement. But this kind of thing was exactly what Lee hoped to address in his work. “In Korea,” he says, ”the private sector is very fast-growing, but government cannot keep up with their pace.” And as many Fels students would recognize, Lee saw his role in government to be a force to reduce red tape and open closed bureaucracies. “The government was hurting private sector by its inefficiency,” Lee adds.

Overall, the project was eventually a success and can be evidenced by the Korean population’s improving views of government, according to steadily improving scores on the public sector integrity index by the Korea Independent Commission Against Corruption. Lee agrees that people’s impression of government is changing for the better of Korea: “it’s more transparent, more accountable,” he says with a smile.

Because of the project’s success, Lee found himself promoted to the Office of the President of Korea in 2007, where he took the role as the assistant to the Presidential Director for Performance Management. In the Office of Performance Management, Lee undertook yet another major project – measuring the time it took for legislation to move from agenda-setting to legislative passage. To gather these metrics, Lee helped to develop a tool called the ‘Government Innovation Index,’ which also evaluated performance. Through his work, Lee found that major programs often featured an especially large gap in the process. “The biggest factor,” noted Lee, “was the research and development process.”

Like civil servants in any modern democracy, Lee’s assignments were subject to the ebb and flow of political power. In 2007, Korean President Roh Moo-hyun’s party was defeated by the opposition Grand National Party, and President Lee Myung-bak took office in February 2008. As the administrations changed so did presidential priorities, and Bangmoo Lee was transferred to the Ministry of Public Administration & Civil Defense, where he was honored by being enrolled in the government’s prestigious management training program. It was after his training that he decided it was time to pursue a graduate education, for which the Korean government would pay for by incurring a 4-year post-graduation work obligation.

Lee applied to many public affairs graduate programs in the United States, including the Sanford School at Duke University, New York University’s Wagner School, the Rockefeller College at SUNY Albany, and Fels here at Penn. Lee’s preferences, aside from strong academic quality, were pretty simple; he wanted to go someplace where he could find out “how American government and organizations really worked.” And the practicality of Fels stood out immediately from the rest, “I really did not like the totally-theoretical programs.”

At Fels, Lee’s background in performance government combined with his coursework is pushing him in a new direction. “Government cannot provide public goods and services by itself,” he said. “It should cooperate with other sectors.” Taking advantage of the Fels core competency in economic development, Lee is pursuing coursework to “learn the relationships between government, nonprofit, and private sectors in promoting economic development.”

Lee is enjoying his time in Philadelphia but is anxious to go back to Korea to put his new skills into practice to encourage great nonprofit and civic movements. In Korea, the ‘third-sector’ is still in its infancy compared to the United States. But in this, Lee sees an opportunity as Korea continues decentralization and adopting a performance government-approach. “People don’t have experience providing public services through [inter-sector] cooperation,” notes Lee. But with his Fels education and powerful experience, he will certainly be up to the challenge.

Michael Cecire (MGA '09) is a policy consultant and freelance writer based in Tbilisi.

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