Historically, the bane of government inaction has been committees. In novels, ideas are sent to committees as a place to die. Do they deserve this reputation today? Working across agency boundaries – and creating a professional network – is increasingly a road to success. As leadership becomes increasingly shared and problems becoming more complex, leveraging the help of others has grown.
Will the next President build on the experience of his or her predecessors? The success of councils and committees depends on their purpose, their sponsorship, leadership, and membership.
Both law and presidential actions have created a series of high level, cross-agency councils that have been making a difference in the way government operates over the past two decades.
The President’s Management Council, first created by President Bill Clinton and re-constituted by President George W. Bush, is comprised of the chief operating officers of the major departments and agencies. Oftentimes this is the deputy secretary, or in the case of smaller agencies, it is the agency head himself or herself. A study toward the end of the Clinton Administration showed that this Council shared best practices among members and led major initiatives such as governmentwide e-government projects or downsizing efforts.
The Chief Financial Officers Council is one of the oldest, being constituted in the wake of the 1990 Chief Financial Officers Act. It focuses on the improvement of federal financial management systems and its members develop 5-year plans for how they will work together toward financial system improvements and the financial management workforce.
The Chief Information Officers Council was created in 1996 by President Clinton, then it was later prescribed by law. It recommends governmentwide policies and procedures related to information technology and shares best practices among its members. It also pursues joint projects that reach beyond the bounds of any single agency, such as benefits.gov, which provides a one-stop website for government benefits.
The Chief Human Capital Officers Council was created in 2002 as one of a series of personnel reforms in the Homeland Security Act. Its members work together to modernize the human capital systems, share information on best practices, and improve personnel information.
The Chief Acquisition Officers Council was established in 1999. It monitors and improves the federal acquisition system, sponsors joint projects, and engages in sharing best practices among its members.
The President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency was created in 1992 by executive order and is comprised of the Inspectors General of the major departments and agencies. The Council addresses cross-agency audits, such as those in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and well as developing the professional skills of the IG workforce.
While there are many other councils and committees that also involve citizens – about 1,000 are reported under the Federal Advisory Committee Act – these six are important opportunities to influence how the government is managed. The President appoints virtually all their members. As a consequence, the next President may want to ensure that they operate effectively as an extension of his or her government reform or improvement efforts.