Getting Reforms to Stick


In early May, Federal Times reported that Clay Johnson, Deputy Director John Kamensky, Senior Fellow, IBM Center for The Business of Governmentfor Management at the Office of Management and Budget, has begun to think of ways to ensure the elements of the President’s Management Agenda would continue in a future Administration. Like previous reformers, he wants to ensure a legacy.

The Agenda, created in 2001, focuses on improvements to core management functions in government agencies – human capital, financial management, budgeting, use of technology, and competition. Some elements have been more controversial than others, but for the most part there has been significant progress in creating a strong foundation of management capacity. For example, agencies are more likely to strategically plan for their future skill and talent needs than they were 6 years ago. For the most part, the elements of the Agenda are not partisan. In fact, more than half of them were part of Clinton-Gore’s Reinventing Government initiative as well.

The challenge is to get “good things” to stick. Oftentimes, when top leaders change or shift their attention, good things go by the wayside. So Johnson is developing plans to create some continuity. He says he wants to create a cross-agency “performance council” to ensure the emphasis on improved performance does not fade. He will ask agencies to define long-term management plans and performance goals by Fall 2008. And he wants agencies to sharpen their performance and budget reporting approaches to ensure they are clear (and relevant) to the next Administration. Taken together, he hopes these three actions will create momentum through the early days of the next Administration.

Many observers of the Reinventing Government effort said it faded quickly after President Bush took office. In fact, many of its efforts were absorbed and renamed, and claimed as “new” by the incoming Bush Administration. A case in point is the Human Capital Survey conducted by the Office of Personnel Management. It was annually administered governmentwide starting in 1998 and ending in 2000, but re-launched as a “new” Bush Administration initiative in 2002, and enacted into law a year later.

So, while the vaunted “traffic light” Scorecard may go away, many of its elements are likely to be absorbed by the new President. Renamed, but with origins conveniently forgotten. The momentum will be appreciated, but not necessarily recognized!

What elements of the President’s Management Agenda have the likeliest probability of being continued? Which would you encourage a new President to put at the top of his or her agenda?

2 Responses to “Getting Reforms to Stick”

  1. Kevin Bacon Says:

    I recently finished reading Reflections on 21st Century Government Management — I found both essays to be very insightful. I teach an advanced public management course to masters degree students at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the Univ. of Texas. I plan to use these two papers in my course next fall, as they frame some of the key challenges facing public managers today.

    I found Kelman’s to have some very useful ideas about performance management and contract management. Kettl’s discussion of non-hierarchical solutions to non-routine problems was also very thought provoking. I hope the IBM Center can continue to support research into these three topics.

  2. Steve Richardson Says:

    Which initiatives survive and in what form will be a function of who wins the contest, of course. My bet is on Financial Management and E-Gov, because neither is controversial and both have plenty of room for improvement, according to the current Administration’s scorecard.

    I would encourage the next President to push Budget and Performance Integration, which is in its infancy despite abundant Green scores. As the “Reflections” of Profs. Kettl and Kelman suggest, government agencies’ results are more transparent. However, legislative constraints effectively prevent using such information to manage programs.

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