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State and local employees got a three-hour pep talk last week from the co-author of "Reinventing Government," a book about using entrepreneurial principles to improve the public sector.

Gov. Mike Leavitt treats the book as a bible for good government. He's not alone. So do local, state and federal officials around the country - including President Clinton."The problem with government is not the people who work within it. It's the system in which they are trapped," author Ted Gaebler told more than 500 state and local employees who gathered at the Salt Lake Hilton last week.

Gaebler, who wrote the book a year ago with Clinton adviser David Osborne, was brought to Utah by Andersen Consulting. The information-system and technical-consulting firm paid all of Gaebler's expenses.

Many of the state department heads and legislators in the audience brought the copies of "Reinventing Government" that Leavitt had given them to read after he took office in January.

Beginning at 9 a.m., Gaebler talked nearly nonstop, trying to infuse them with the enthusiasm he developed for running the public sector as city manager of Visalia, Calif.

He told them it was up to them to change government, because the business community, "do-gooders" in academia and politicians just can't match the effect public employees can have.

Too many government workers, however, resist new ideas. "We, in government, have a system of concrete bunkers to hide in that would make Saddaam Hussein jealous," Gaebler said.

In fact, he predicted only about 40 percent of the employees attending his lecture would become so-called "change agents" willing to apply his ideas to their areas of government.

Many of the ideas that Gaebler tossed out as examples of how governments have reinvented themselves involved making money to offset a decline in the percentage of the national income invested in government.

That percentage has shrunk since 1976, from nearly 40 percent to about 30 percent. In contrast, 20 percent of the nation's income was spent on government in 1932, when Franklin Roosevelt was president.

Although Watergate, tax rebellions and other sources of distrust in government contributed to the decline in spending, Gaebler said the most important reason for the drop is that government is being "out-competed."

For example, he said, when the the U.S. Postal Service was debating raising the cost of delivering a letter by a few cents several years ago, private companies began offering overnight mail delivery for $12.75.

The post office didn't realize that customers were willing to pay a premium for guaranteed overnight delivery and has since lost a significant portion of its business to the private sector.

Now, he said, the post office makes millions of dollars selling to collectors who would never dream of using Elvis' likeness or other special stamps to actually mail a letter.

Governments that allow workers to think like entrepreneurs will find ways to make profits - a word Gaebler said too many public employees fear, even though such ideas as vanity license plates have been successful.

Utah Public Employees Association director Nancy Sechrest, who attended the seminar, said state workers are eager for an opportunity to help improve government.

"Middle managers have been trained to react to old processes. As soon as they can start feeling freedom from elected officials and upper management to try new things, public employees will go along with them," she said.

In a press conference after his morning seminar (Utah educators heard a similar presentation in the afternoon), Gaebler said changes that the public will notice will take time. Lots of time.

He suggested that change can been seen like any other capital project, such as a bridge or a dam, that can take 20 years or more to complete. "We ought to expect 10 to 15 years before we see a shift," Gaebler said.

Utah may be ahead of most states, he said, citing the governor's Centennial Schools program to encourage innovation at the school level and the recognition the state has received for its fiscal management.

"Most of the changes in the book occurred not at the top but in spite of the top. Here you have the luxury of support at the top," Gaebler said.

"Reinventing Government" may be misnamed, Leavitt said, adding the book changed a lot of his perceptions about government. "This is about changing people's attitudes and hearts. It's not about changing systems."