Yesterday I met a friend for lunch who was just recruited to work in the Obama White House. That person says that it is a high energy, chaotic atmosphere with questions ranging from “how do we change this policy?” to “where do I get a stapler?”
But beyond that, there is a swirl of activity around both positions and policy that still need to be nailed down so agencies can begin delivering on behalf of the White House’s agenda.
Chief Technology Officer. The position of Chief Technology Officer, which was a campaign promise, is still open. One of the questions surrounding the job is: what should the job entail? Techies created a website to opine on what issues Obama’s newly-minted Chief Technology Officer should take on. The Congressional Research Service issued a report describing the range of potential duties the office-holder might have and where in the White House the position might be located: in the Office of Management and Budget? In the Office of Science and Technology Policy? In charge of ensuring progress on large federal technology projects? In charge of cutting-edge ideas? Inwardly focused on government? Outwardly focused on the economy? It seems that today at least part of this will be defined by today’s announcement that Vivek Kundra will be the OMB administrator of e-government and technology.
Chief Performance Officer. But what about the newly-opened position of Chief Performance Officer, also a campaign commitment? When Nancy Killefer was named to that position, it was to be a dual-hatted role: both Chief Performance Officer and Deputy Director for Management at OMB. In that role, the person would have multiple responsibilities: stewardship of the government’s mission support systems (like acquisition, technology, and financial management); enforcer of about 300 governmentwide management laws; chair of multiple governmentwide councils; new chair of the economic stimulus oversight board. . . and these are mostly statutorily required activities. They don’t include the elements envisioned by Obama: working with agencies to set performance targets and track them, working collaboratively across agency boundaries around outcomes, running SWAT teams to fix poor performing programs. It was unclear whether this person would also be responsible for the promised “line by line review” of the government, as well. When Killefer stepped down, the question is whether these roles will still be combined in future appointments.
Defining the boundaries around policy issues is also becoming a challenge. Agencies will be asked for quick turnaround input on important issues but will likely face what looks like a confusing array of White House requests for input and support.
Citizen Engagement. For example, the directive to create an Open Government directive – to be led by the Chief Technology Officer – has a 120-day completion deadline. (I understand it is being led by Beth Noveck, at least until the CTO is named.) In part, the directive asks for a plan to increase citizen participation in government. Separately, Katie Stanton has been named the director of citizen participation, but she doesn’t start her job until next month. Separately, an office has been created in the White House to handle social innovation (and civic engagement?), tentatively to be led by Sonal Shah, Separately, another presidential directive on regulatory review was signed on January 30th directing, in part, the development of a plan to increase citizen participation in the regulatory development process within 100 days (for some reason, this memo isn’t on the White House website). Separately, the White House Office of Public Liaison and Intergovernmental Affairs, headed by Valerie Jarrett, may want to have some say in how the public is engaged, as well.
Hopefully, the various White House offices are presenting a common face to the agencies by funneling their requests for information, help, and coordination through Chris Lu, the secretary of the cabinet. At least his office could begin to coordinate these efforts. But I haven’t heard if that’s happening yet.