It looks like one of the most significant markers for the Obama Administration’s first 100 days will be the passage of the Recovery Act, and its subsequent implementation. Passing the $787 billion bill was the easy part. Creating strong oversight was also relatively easy. The challenge will be implementing it in a way that gets intended results – stimulating the economy by creating jobs.
In fact, a month ago Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service, expressed his concern in a Washington Post op-ed about an over-emphasis on oversight and insufficient emphasis on implementation:
What’s lacking is an aggressive plan to provide the personnel and tools necessary for our government departments and agencies to succeed, and a new paradigm that imagines the watchdog role as constructive rather than punitive.
Smart government should be about getting it right in the first place and investing in the front-end capacity, not discovering problems after-the-fact and then bashing agencies and civil servants for failing to do jobs they were never resourced to handle.
A month later, the dynamics seem to have shifted. The President asked Vice President Joe Biden to be the overall leader of the effort. A veteran executive, Ed DeSeve, was appointed last week to lead the implementation effort. Government Executive’s Robert Brodsky’s article, “Stimulus Czar Is Well-Prepared for New Role,” notes that “DeSeve said the themes of the stimulus will be speed, accountability and transparency.”
DeSeve has the chance to demonstrate a relatively new type of public sector management approach – using collaborative networks aided by technology — which he has been championing in his most recent role as an academic at the Fels Institute at the University of Pennsylvania. While there, he authored a chapter on managed networks and social networks in the Intelligence Community, in a new book, “Unlocking the Power of Networks,” by Stephen Goldsmith and Don Kettl.
The Obama Administration is already full of true believers in the use of technology to leverage the implementation of the Recovery Act. Based on its commitment to greater transparency, citizen participation, and collaboration, it launched a governmentwide website to be the focal point, www.recovery.gov.
Twenty-nine Federal agencies and nearly all state governments have followed suit with their own sets of websites. Both are hot-linked from the recovery.gov site. According to Federal Computer Week, some of the agency sites even have discussion boards.
States are attempting to follow the spirit of transparency in their planning efforts. For example, Virginia has created a website to solicit citizen views on stimulus spending priorities, and Maryland held a workshop where citizens were invited to participate.
This doesn’t mean the road ahead will be smooth. Each state has to work with 29 federal agencies and dozens of programs. Each federal agency has to work with 50 different states, dozens of state agencies, and hundreds of municipalities. And they all will be sensitive to oversight by both the Recovery Act Transparency Board and the Government Accountability Office!