Here’s where this becomes a true blog. I know only part of the story and hope that you can add what you know to what happened, or correct what I remember! . . . . the full story is more complex than what I know without doing a lot more research, so this is a work-in-progress. . . .
The role of think tanks during a presidential transition period has grown in value over the past 30 years. The first big public splash of a think tank was the Heritage Foundation’s “Mandate for Leadership” which was prepared in anticipation of the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan. It was seen as influencing the agenda of the early Reagan Administration. By 1988, the Government Accountability Office added its voice, issuing a series of transition reports about the policy and management challenges facing the government and specific agencies.
Also in 1988 the Council for Excellence in Government began publishing what it called “The Prune Book.” This is a play on the so-called official “Plum Book” which is a quadrennial list of all senior-level policy posts, including all political appointees. The Prune Book (which they view as experienced plums) focused on job profiles of several dozen of the most difficult sub-cabinet jobs in terms of management challenges. The Plum Book lists job titles but provides no information about the jobs themselves. The Prune Book was designed to inform the incoming Administration about key management jobs and the environment and issues the prospective office holder would need to address, in hopes that the new President would pair the rights skills and ability to these crucial jobs.
By the time of the 2000 election, there were a series of think tank efforts devoted to management improvement issues. I’ll review three of the most prominent that I was aware of. In addition, The Presidential Transition Act of 2000 resulted in the General Services Administration sponsoring a website that provided basic information about each agency for incoming appointees. That same Act set aside funds for the incoming Administration to sponsor orientation training for new political appointees. This training was organized by the Council for Excellence in Government.
The American Enterprise Institute, sponsored a major research effort, “Transition to Governing,” in conjunction with the Brookings Institution. The effort had several elements. One focused on around improving the political appointment process, in part by putting forms on-line. The effort resulted in some fine-tuning of the appointment process – not the major overall envisioned. The effort also tracked the progress of appointments for the first year of the Bush Administration.
A second element was the White House Interview Program, which also received support from the National Archives and the Pew Charitable Trusts. This program, led by Dr. Martha Kumar and supported by several dozen academics, was devoted to oral histories and summaries of the historical evolution of key White House posts such as the chief of staff and the director of communications. The results of these efforts were provided to both pre-election transition teams to help them understand the historical context of the different jobs and how they evolved over time. This effort is being updated in 2008.
Brookings also sponsored an encyclopedic effort by Brad Patterson, “The White House Staff: Inside the West Wing and Beyond” which describes what the 5,900 people in 125 different offices do. It is largely an operators guide to the organization and management of the Executive Office of the President. This volume is being updated in 2008.
The Council for Excellence in Government developed a 2000 version of its Prune Book. But it also contributed in several other ways. It sponsored a forum in mid-2000 among key government, non-profit, and industry officials that focused on the development of an electronic government initiatives for the next Administration. By creating some consensus, the electronic government agenda got off to a fairly quick start once the Bush Administration took office. Similarly, Management Concepts, a for-profit training company, sponsored a forum comprised of various stakeholders to develop a civil service reform agenda. The Council was also asked to organize and lead the Bush transition’s political orientation training for the new Administration, as well.
Other groups also offered management insights and sponsored events. For example, the Government Performance Coalition, comprised of about two dozen “good government” groups, sponsored a series of seminars on key management capacity issues – performance management, human capital, electronic government, etc. It summarized its key advice in a short memo and followed it with a short book: “Memos to the President: Management Advice from the Nation’s Top Public Administrators,” containing a series of essays
The predecessor to the IBM Center, the PWC Endowment for The Business of Government, sponsored a parallel book, “Memos to the President: Management Advice from the Nation’s Top CEOs.” The Performance Coalition also did a follow-on report in 2005, entitled: “Getting Results: A Guide for Federal Leaders and Managers.”
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Combined, these various efforts contributed to a baseline of information and history that helped the new Administration as it took office. As the 2008 presidential campaigns develop pre-transition teams, think tanks are beginning to develop their insights for the next President.