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An Arduous Transition

October 23, 2008

The Washington Post did a terrific front-page story this past Sunday on the upcoming presidential transition.   The article vividly describes the cross-pressure facing the candidates – dealing with the economic crisis, the Iraq and Afghan wars, the continuing resolution and 2010 budget, the thousands of people seeking appointments, and developing a policy agenda that addresses the demands of scores of interest groups who believe their agendas should be acted upon immediately.

David Axelrod, Obama’s chief political strategist, promised last week that if “we are successful, we will be ready to act quickly to put our plan in place.”  Those involved in planning a possible McCain transition say he is genuinely interested in bipartisan governing and would immediately reach out to the opposition.

 

David Espo, an AP reporter, focused a separate story on Obama’s Transition Team.  He describes a dozen individual teams already underway preparing for a possible transition.  He named Cassandra Butts, an Obama associate, as leading the personnel search effort.

Transition Ideas: Human Capital

October 1, 2008
Partnership for Public Service

Partnership for Public Service

Today’s the beginning of the new fiscal year!  While there may not be a budget and the economy seems to be crashing down, there are only four weeks left in the presidential campaign.  It is time for the various think tanks to begin releasing their ideas for the next president to act upon!  Today, the Partnership for Public Service releases the centerpiece of its Presidential Transition Initiative – “Roadmap to Reform:  A Management Framework for the Next Administration.”

Befitting its name “partnership,” seven other good government groups joined the Partnership in endorsing its roadmap to “improve government operations. . . . by focusing on its greatest asset – its people.”  Its report starts by highlighting the projected loss of 530,000 employees over the next five years as they retire, and the importance of recruiting, training, and motivating the next generation of public servants.

The Roadmap organizes its recommendations around four components:

The Right Talent.  The Partnership says “Just filling vacancies is inadequate.”  Agencies have to identify future needs and recruit talent for those needs, not today’s vacancies.  This involves creating a planning, recruiting, and hiring process that reflect practices young potential employees expect: user-friendly and transparent.  No essays, more resumes.  No General Schedule, but agency-specific tailored systems.  Patent examiners, bank examiners, disability examiners, border guards, doctors, and air traffic controllers should not be all shoe-horned into the same pay system.

An Engaged Workforce.  “Managers should be held accountable . . . for high levels of employee engagement,” says the Partnership.  To do this, “Managers should build a clear line of sight from an employee’s work to accomplishments of broader objectives and the agency’s mission.”  In addition, agencies should invest in training and Congress should “statutorily allocate money for training that can’t be eliminated or re-budgeted,” and agencies should be allowed to roll over unspent funds from one year to the next to finance training opportunities.

Strong Leadership.  The Partnership says “The federal government has an inconsistent track record selecting, developing, and retaining top political and career leaders with strong management skills.”  For political appointees, it recommends that during Senate confirmation hearings, senators assess whether appointees are qualified to run large and complex organizations, and once appointed, they receive an orientation on how the government works. For longer-term leadership, the Partnership recommends the designation of chief management officers in agencies and the use of “joint duty” talent exchanges within and between agencies and other organizations.

Public Support.  Public support can focus lawmaker support for a vital civil service.  Attitudes toward federal employment is part of promoting a constructive solution.  To date, both presidential candidates have extolled the importance of public service.  This in turn can begin to affect both attitudes and public support.

The Partnership also promotes other actions in its Roadmap:

** Making metrics more useful by focusing on outcomes, for example by promoting the use of “PerformanceStat” models to create a culture of performance.

** Publishing program performance results to clearly account for resources used, such as by building on pre-existing initiatives such as balanced scorecards or the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART).

** Requiring essential data be uniformly collected, analyzed and made available to agencies and stakeholders.

** Dramatically reducing the number of Senate-confirmed positions (1,137) to ensure essential leadership positions are filled in a more timely fashion.

Shortly, other groups will be releasing their reports.  I’ll try to provide summaries of them as they become available.  If I miss anything, let me know!  In the meanwhile, congrats to Max Stier and team at the Partnership.

House Hearing on Transition

September 25, 2008

Yesterday a subcommittee of the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee held a hearing on the preparations for the upcoming presidential transition.  Like the Senate hearing a couple weeks ago, many of the same Administration witnesses were there and delivered virtually the same statements.  There was a separate panel with witnesses from academe and think tanks. Again, their testimonies covered similar materials that had been covered in other congressional hearings in recent weeks.

I’m on travel out of the country so I wasn’t able to attend and listen to questions from Chairman Eldolphus Towns and answers from the witnesses during the hearing.  If you were there, could you comment on two questions I hope were addressed:

** The House passed a continuing resolution to fund the government through early 2009 because Congress has not yet passed any appropriations bills.  The resolution provides current-year funding levels for most agencies but increases funding for certain agencies (like the Census Bureau’s preparation for the 2010 Census).  Did it include increases for agencies dealing with the transition, such as the General Services Administration?

**  OMB deputy director Clay Johnson testified.  Earlier that day he convened the first meeting of agency-level transition leaders.  He had attached a copy of the agenda for that meeting to his testimony, but did he say anything about how the meeting went?

Senate Hearing on Transition

September 16, 2008

A Senate subcommittee held a hearing last week on what the executive branch is doing to prepare for the upcoming transition.  A House subcommittee plans a similar hearing next week, on the 24th. 

Here are highlights and links to the hearing held by Senator Daniel Akaka, chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia.

OMB Deputy Director for Management.

Clay Johnson, who led President Bush’s transition into government, is also organizing Bush’s transition out.  He said their goal “is to do a better job than has ever been done before to help the next Administration prepare to govern.”  He outlined several actions:

** Guidance to agencies in July encouraging them to designate a career executive to be the point person during the transition.  He plans to convene these designated officials for the first time in a meeting on September 24th (before the planned House hearing) to discuss with them best practices and “ensure that these individuals understand the needs of the incoming and outgoing Administrations.”

** Work with the White House Office of Presidential Personnel (which he used to head) to develop roadmaps that the new Administration can follow so they can fill the top 100 jobs by April 1, 2009, and 400 by August 1st.  In the Bush Administration, only 29 of the top jobs had been filled by April 1, 2001.  According to Government Executive, Johnson said he has been in contact with both the Obama and McCain transition teams and “Both campaigns are really engaged and eager to tackle this assignment.”

** He has ensured there is a comprehensive foundation of performance information for the next Administration.  Under his leadership, OMB has updated its assessments of the performance of 1,017 government programs.  But in addition, OMB has created a “go to” website for agency performance information.  This includes their strategic plans, GAO high-risk programs, accountability reports, and FY 2009 budget justifications for each major agency.  This website will serve as a valuable tool for any incoming team.

He is also providing the transition teams his personal “lessons learned.” 

According to Federal Computer Week, Johnson says the next president “will not inherit an empty blackboard but a blackboard full of clear goals, lots of accountability, lots of specific ways forward.”

Acting Comptroller General.

Gene Dodaro outlined the actions his agency, the Government Accountability Office, plans to undertake during the transition.  He said his agency “will provide congressional and executive branch policymakers with a comprehensive snapshot of how things are working across government.” 

Dodaro says GAO will shortly unveil a new transition website “which will contain information on major challenges facing key departments and agencies.”  This will include un-implemented recommendations from relevant GAO reports, information on cross-cutting management issues, cross-cutting programmatic issues, and background information on the nation’s long-term fiscal challenges.

GAO will also release an updated list of high-risk programs in January.  The current list covers 28 areas, such as defense contracting and the 2010 decennial census.

In 2006, GAO provided Congress a list of 36 areas for oversight; many of these will likely be the foundation for this effort.  It plans to update this list for the next Congress.

In conclusion, Dodaro committed to updating GAO’s list of questions for use in Senate confirmation hearings for presidential appointees, which it developed for the 2000 transition.

Also testifying were the head of the Office of Government Ethics, Robert Cusick, and the transition lead for the General Services Administration, Gail Lovelace.  I’ll provide more on their testimony down the road.

Government Reform: Democratic Platform

September 9, 2008

The Democratic and Republican party platforms both have things to say about how their party would approach running the government.  Since they are both a bit long, I’ll break them into separate postings. 

The Democratic party platform document I’ve found on the Internet is an August 7th draft.  I can’t seem to find anyone who has a final version.  However, the draft has a section entitled:  “Renewing American Democracy.”  This section contains the following statements:

** “We will create a new “open source” government, using technology to make government more transparent, accountable and inclusive.

** “We will make government data available online and will have an online video archive of significant agency meetings.

** “We will put all non-emergency bills that Congress has passed online for five days, to allow the American public to review and comment on them before they are signed into law.

** “We will require Cabinet officials to have periodic national online town hall meetings to discuss issues before their agencies.

** “We will develop a comprehensive management agenda to prevent operational breakdowns in government and ensure that government provides the level of services that the American people deserve.

** “ . . .we will work to rebuild and reengage our federal workforce.  We will make government a more attractive place to work.

** “We will pay for our new spending, eliminate waste in government programs, demand and measure results, and stop funding programs that don’t work.

** “We are committed to a participatory government.  We will use the most current technology available to improve the quality of government decision-making . . . We will enhance the flow of information between citizens and government – in both directions – by involving the public in the work of government agencies.  We will not simply solicit opinions, but will also use new technology to tap into the vast expertise of the American citizenry, for the benefit of government and our democracy.

** “. . . we’ll end the abuse of no-bid contracts. . . we will institute a gift ban. . . We support campaign finance reform. . . “

Other sections of the party platform also touch on management-related issues:

** Create a Social Investment Fund Network to invest in the “ideas that work” created by government and non-profit civic institutions.

** Establish a Chief Technology Officer for the nation to ensure we use technology to enhance the functioning, transparency, and expertise of government, including establishing a national interoperable public safety communications network . . .

** Be fiscally responsible by enforcing “pay as you go” budgeting rules.

** Make the veterans benefits system work by “making the disability benefits process more fair, efficient and equitable.”

** “We will instruct the Defense and State departments to develop a strategy for determining when contracting makes sense, and when certain functions are ‘inherently governmental’ and should not be contracted out.”

** “We will modernize our foreign assistance  policies, tools, and operations in an elevated, empowered, consolidated, and streamlined U.S. development agency.”

** “. . . we will ask all Americans to be actively involved in meeting the challenges of the new century. . . We will use the Internet to better match volunteers to service opportunities.”
 
** “We should fix the dysfunctional immigration bureaucracy. . . “

** “We will fix governmental agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency, ensure that they are staff with professionals, and create integrated communication and response plans.”

These commitments are supplemented by candidate Obama’s fairly direct statement in his convention acceptance speech:

“I will also go through the federal budget line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less, because we cannot meet 21st-century challenges with a 20th-century bureaucracy.”

The Ideal CEO

September 4, 2008

In the midst of the political conventions the past couple of weeks, a fun article appeared in Sunday’s Chicago Tribune, by Steven L. Katz.   Katz is a former fed and management author. In it, he looked at how head hunting firms go about helping major corporations hire their chief executives.

His “experiment:” What if we used the same approach in selecting the next President of the United States??

Katz says executive search firms help corporations write a job description, create selection criteria, solicit applications, review resumes, and then conduct interviews. He says the presidential process reverses this logic:

“Voters meet and “interview” the candidates first. Then they just keep doing that for months, in all the states and U.S. territories. Candidates tell the voters what criteria we should use to evaluate them. And as for qualifications, we let the candidates self-certify as well: “I’m the best-qualified candidate running for president.”

So what if we used the 2008 election for an experiment? Instead of voting, let’s say we hired an executive search firm to find the next president of the United States.

How might the headhunters work? Which qualities and qualifications, traits and experience would they deem crucial to this position as the most powerful of all CEOs?”

One executive search firm provided Katz with a checklist of competencies and personal qualities they help their clients look for, such as “teamwork and whether the candidates can lead, create, and play well on the best teams.” Other qualities include: global experience, drives positive change, thinks independently and challenges conventional wisdom, hunger to make things happen, ability to maintain focus, curiosity, candor, sense of humor, and commitment to family.

This list of qualities harkens back to the primaries when Senators Obama and Clinton debated what it takes to be president: being a visionary or a CEO.

Government Reform: Senator Obama

August 28, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama

Sen. Barack Obama

   

When I started this blog last year I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d be writing blogs from a wireless connection in an airport at 7 a.m.  But here I am in Sacramento, waiting for a jet plane. . . and blogging.

 

Tonight is the final night of the Democratic Convention in Denver.  Senator Obama will likely provide a stirring vision for the future.  But what about his vision for the government of the future?  That likely won’t be a theme! 

 What are Senator Obama’s and Senator McCain’s campaign agendas around government reform?  I understand the Wall Street Journal and Government Executive magazine will both be exploring this in more depth over the next few weeks, but I’d like to take a stab at it by reading what’s on their websites at the point of their parties’ conventions.

 

My initial impression is:  not much.  I’ll summarize what I’ve seen for Obama today, and provide a similar summary around the time of the Republican convention for Senator McCain. 

 

Based on a read of Senator Obama’s “Blueprint for America,” he offers several themes, but no grand vision of how he would govern.  The first theme touches on the importance of public trust in government to be honest and open.  The second touches on fiscal discipline.  The third theme touches on government’s ability to deliver specific services to specific target populations.  These are described in two documents:  His Blueprint for Change and a fact sheet:  Restoring Trust in America.

 

Honest and Open.  Under the first theme, Obama says he will:

 

·       Shine the light on federal contracts, tax breaks, and earmarks.  Obama says he will create a “contracts and influence” database to disclose how much federal contractors spend on lobbying, how much they get, and how well they are doing.  He also proposes ending the abuse of “no bid” contracts and shining the light on earmarks and pork barrel spending.  He also says he will make bills passed by Congress available for public review before he signs them.

 

·       Bring Americans back into their government.  He says he will hold “21st century fireside chats” by requiring his cabinet to have periodic on-line town hall meetings.  He will also make communications with the White House about regulatory policymaking publicly available and conduct regulatory agency business in public.

 

·       Free the executive branch from special interest influence.  Obama says he will not allow new appointees to work on regulations or contracts related to their prior employers and they will not be allowed to lobby the executive branch if they leave government during his term in office.  He says he will also appoint officials who are qualified for their jobs.

 

Fiscal Discipline.  Under the second theme, Obama says he will:

 

Reinstate PAYGO budgeting rules, which require that all new spending be offset with cuts elsewhere, or new revenues. 

 

End wasteful government spending.  He says he will stop funding wasteful obsolete federal programs, end subsidies for oil and gas companies, and eliminate subsidies to the student loan industry.  He also says he will tackle wasteful spending in the Medicare program.

 

Late-Breaking Addition: In his acceptance speech at the convention last night, Senator Obama said:

“I will also go through the federal budget line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less, because we cannot meet 21st-century challenges with a 20th-century bureaucracy.”

Fixing Broken Services.  Under the third theme, Senator Obama commits to focusing on several broken management processes. 

 

·       Electronic health information.  Obama will continue the 10-year commitment President Bush has made to make health records electronic, but Obama says he will invest $10 billion a year for five years to make it happen, along with making other health information electronic.

 

·       Veterans Benefits.  He commits to fixing the broken Veterans Benefits process.  Remember that VA Secretary Principi said, when he was confirmed seven years ago, that he felt his term in office could be judged a failure if he didn’t fix the broken VA benefits system.  So Obama’s made a tall commitment! 

 

·       Immigration Process.  He also commits to fixing the “dysfunctional” immigration bureaucracy. This was attempted under the Clinton Administration, with mixed results.

 

Other Sources of Campaign Commitments

 

Technology Advocate.  Beyond his website’s summary campaign documents, Senator Obama has addressed a number of other government management issues.  These are summarized on the Next Government website sponsored by the Fels Institute at the University of Pennsylvania.  These include the items described above, but also include a commitment to create a technology advocate, as part of his technology platform.  He says he will create a chief technology officer to ensure the government has the right technology infrastructure, policies, and services.  The technology officer’s specific focus will be on increasing transparency of government information and deploying new technologies to obtain citizen input.

 

Public Service.  While he did not made any campaign commitments in his address at the commencement ceremony at Wesleyan College this past spring, Senator Obama did advocate volunteerism and a call to public service, encouraging the graduates to “hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself.. . . “

 

Civil Service Issues.  In addition, Washington Post’s Joe Robinson recently interviewed the Obama campaign and noted that as president, Obama would:   “restore effective oversight of the government- contracting process and reduce our dependence on private contractors in sensitive or inherently governmental functions.. . “  He went on to say that Obama committed to “ensure our federal workforce is working effectively and with real accountability,” and “ensure that government compensation is fair and we can continue to attract and retain talented workers.”

 

If you are aware of other commitments, please add to this list!  I’ll develop a similar status report after the Republican convention for Senator John McCain.  Then we can wait and see what the WSJ and GovExec come up with!

 

 

 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
 

 

 

 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

National Security Reform

August 5, 2008

 

Project on National Security Reform

Project on National Security Reform


Think tanks are starting to release some significant reports for the next president. The Project on National Security Reform recently released its preliminary findings.  The project’s goal is to revisit the National Security Act of 1947, which put in place the current infrastructure for national security (like the Defense Department!).

 

The project has a bipartisan cast of star advisors – Norm Augustine, Leon Fuerth, Newt Gingrich, Wesley Clark, Brent Scrowcroft, and more.

 

The preliminary report – more than 100 pages – concludes: “The world for which the national security system was created no longer exists.”  It identified a series of insights that should underlay any reform efforts, including:

 

·         The system must produce a collaborative government approach

·         Resources much match goals and objectives

·         The new system must be able to deal more effectively with other nations

 

It encourages the creation of a “national security workforce bound by a national security culture that rewards cooperation and collaboration,” and have “Oversight and Accountability of the system as a whole, rather than of its constituent parts.”

 

The findings report does not offer solutions.  This report is designed to only set the stage. Another report, along with detailed findings, are due out in October.

 

 

Agency Transition Efforts

July 14, 2008
Department of Labor

Department of Labor

There are some stirring in different agencies with regard to preparation for the transition.

Department of Labor

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in the Department of Labor’s annual conference of its entire senior executive corps. A large chunk of the meeting focused on the upcoming presidential transition and how it might affect the work of the Department. About two-thirds of the Department’s career senior executives are new to their roles since the last transition in 2000. So there was a lot of interest in the topic!

I was invited to provide an overview of the four stages of the transition process and provide some insights as to the potential effects of the transition on the department, its programs, and for career executives. The interesting part, though, was a panel of seasoned senior executives from the Department, some of who noted that their first transition was between Presidents Nixon and Ford.

The panelists noted that every transition they had been through was different but they had some insights based on accumulated wisdom:

• Departing officials need to know what records they can take and what they must leave behind.

• Agency staff should be helpful to the post-election transition team but work through pre-determined channels that are defined by the outgoing administration and the incoming transition teams. A note of caution was offered. Because the post-election transition team is likely not comprised of federal employees, agency staff cannot share certain documents. If they share information, even informally, with the team about pre-decisional budget materials, pending lawsuits, etc., the government may be waiving its privilege to keep that information out of the public eye and it may be subject to public release of that information under the Freedom of Information Act. This could jeopardize law enforcement actions, or other normally confidential proceedings.

• The Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 defined the issue of “who’s in charge” during the transition. The incoming president can appoint an official to be in charge in an “acting” capacity at least temporarily, but absent that, the highest-ranking career official will temporarily hold the job, but not necessarily in an “acting” capacity. Most agencies define an order of succession before the transition occurs. In Labor, one political appointee was left behind from the Clinton Administration until President Bush’s Secretary of Labor was confirmed, then that person resigned.

• Field staff tends to feel some anxiety about what is happening during the transition in Washington. The panelists’ advice was: continue doing their job, and continue applying the law (e.g., in enforcement actions) but keep the new team apprised of what is going on.

• The panelists encouraged their fellow senior executives to make an extra effort to communicate with field staff during the transition – share what they know about what the new team is asking questions about, describe any changes to the decision-making process, and fix any web pages with the names of recently departed officials!

• The panelists observed that there will be a period where trust between the new political appointees and the career executives will have to be re-built. They mentioned the 120-day “getting to know you” period where new politicals cannot move a career executive to a different position involuntarily.

• They noted that they should all be ready to answer a lot of questions that start with “Why?”

Assistant Secretary Patrick Pizzella offered that the Department was in the process of establishing an internal transition team in accordance with guidance from the President’s Management Council. This process will define briefing book formats, etc., but will also determine which career executives will provide leadership during the transition period. The goal is to ensure a smooth transition – and when the new team asks for information, the answer isn’t “this hasn’t been updated in a few years.”

One of the senior executives, Shelby Hallmark, shared an interesting insight with his peers: that for the career senior executives, “the transition is our largest opportunity to serve.” He observed that mid-level managers, especially those new to government, who have never been through a presidential transition, will turn to their senior executives for guidance on how to engage the new leadership. It’s a period when the career executives become the cross-roads for information and they need to be especially mindful of this during the transition period.

What’s going on in other agencies in regard to preparation for the transition?

• The Washington Post had a story about the Justice Department’s commitments yesterday.

Federal Times is interested in knowing as well. It dedicated a webpage to tracking what is happening at the agency level. There haven’t been any posts to the page so far, though.

• There has been a lot of congressional interest, beyond the homeland security arena where Congress has already required transition planning in law. Several agencies have received congressional inquiries asking for copies of transition plans. A Senate committee plans to hold a hearing in the next few weeks to quiz the Administration on its broader plans.

• I understand that the President’s Management Council and the Office of Management and Budget are putting the final touches on a government-wide guidance memo that will be going out shortly. No scorecard, though!


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