Working With Career Executives


Dr. Dana Michael Harsell

Dr. Dana Michael Harsell

One of the most popular downloads from the IBM Center’s website is a 2005 piece by Dr.  Dana Michael Harsell, “Working with Career Executives to Manage for Results.”  I thought it might be worth highlighting and posting it for those interested in presidential transition issues, since it seems particularly relevant.


He begins his essay noting: “Historically, the relationships between political appointees and career executives have been marked with some degree of tension, especially during a transition in leadership.”  He conducted in-depth interviews in three federal agencies and found that two management reforms, the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) and President Bush’s President’s Management Agenda (PMA) helped create a new environment in these agencies that helped bridge these tensions.


He concludes:  “ . . the results-oriented management reforms embodied in GPRA and the PMA have helped to mitigate historic tensions between political appointees and career civil servants by creating a common ground around achieving mission results.”


He supports his conclusion with nine findings:


Finding 1:  GPRA has created a common language for politicals and careerists, and this common language offers a number of benefits to the political/careerist relationship.


Finding 2:  The GPRA process helped smooth the transition in political leadership from the Clinton to the Bush administration.


Finding 3: Updating GPRA required plans to better reflect the policy goals of the new  administration during the transition of political leadership was a beneficial exercise and, in principle, has the potential to strengthen or accelerate productive relationships among careerists and political appointees.


Finding 4: Setting ambitious goals may also help improve relationships.


Finding 5: The GPRA process is perceived as being “owned” by careerists; however, it is also seen as a tool that can be used to help political leadership advance the goals and policy agenda of the current administration.


Finding 6: Generally, the political staff tends to be more focused on the President’s Management Agenda, and career staff and managers tend to be more GPRA oriented.


Finding 7: Congressional interest in GPRA may be waning.


Finding 8: Interviewees in all three agencies reported a positive shift in department culture and internal management practices and generally attributed these shifts to GPRA.


Finding 9: Under some conditions, the GPRA and PMA process may help to exacerbate tensions between political appointees and career managers.


His story sounds plausible based on what I’ve been seeing.  I wonder if it holds up in the next transition?







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