Filling Empty Boxes


John Kamensky, Senior Fellow, IBM Center for The Business of GovernmentWhen an Administration leaves the White House complex, it can be a bit eerie.  The Eisenhower Building, which houses most of the political appointees staffing the President, is empty.  All the files are removed.  Pictures are taken down from the walls.  It’s quiet.  It can feel like a ghost town.  This scene is repeated in agency after agency.

But the new Administration quickly fills the void shortly after the President is sworn into office on January 20th.  by putting a whole new team in place.

However, because the offices – and the jobs — are empty, a new President can easily change the roles of what the new appointees do.  In fact, there is a window for change that opens briefly once every four to eight years.  After that, the offices and jobs are filled and it becomes much harder to change roles and direction.

Given this scenario, the ground work for a new Administration starts months in advance, even before a candidate is elected.  Clay Johnson, who was the director of presidential personnel for President Bush, offers some advice:  decide what you want the top 350 positions to do to deliver on the new president’s agenda and only then select people to fill those roles. 

The Comptroller General, David Walker, also has some advice:  as a new President fills roles, select some with management experience to help manage major departments and agencies.  He has advocated the creation of a new job:  Chief Management Officer.  Recently, he went beyond just advocacy of the concept to offer a “how to” guide.  This should be a “must read” for any presidential transition effort as it plans how their president would govern.  The guide offers criteria for how such a position might be structured, depending on the specific needs of individual agencies. Walker goes beyond promoting the concept to actually offering insights into how the positions might be structured.

That guide was a subject of a congressional hearing last week, where Senators Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and George Voinovich (R-OH) both supported the notion of creating positions that would ensure management issues receive top priority attention in departments and agencies.  Action may require some legislative action, for example, Walker recommends that any Chief Management Officer should be a term appointment for a fixed period of time – such as 5 or 7 years – to institutionalize continuity across presidential administrations.  While statutory fixed terms exist for selected government officials, such as the head of the FBI and the head of the Social Security Administration, typically presidents are reluctant to designate such positions because it tends to limit their discretion.  However, this can be an issue the next president can decide. . . . After all, the boxes (on the organization chart) will be empty!


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One Response to “Filling Empty Boxes”

  1. Norman M. Macdonald Says:

    Creating new positions and a new layer of management will only compound and perpetuate the present situation. The lack of leadership at all levels is the basic problem. Leaders do get ahead despite the roadblocks because the are servants to the public and those they lead. With the rare exception all leaders are competent managers but they are a small minority of all managers. The free thinking of true leaders is discouraged by the command and control structure that now hobbles the Federal Government.

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