Posts Tagged ‘Brookings Institution’

Recovery Act: Six Months Old

August 18, 2009

recovery1Yesterday’s USA Today cover story was bannered: “Poll: 57%  Don’t See Stimulus Working.”  People are so impatient! Today, it’s the Recovery Act’s 6-month birthday. And yesterday, Recovery Act recipients could start signing up so they can report their progress starting October 1st.  Maybe then, people will see what is really going on with their money!

According to, as of today there are 25,897 ongoing Recovery Act projects worth a total of $91.1 billion – out of a total of $787 billion authorized to be spent over the next year or so.

In an interview with Barry Bosworth of the Brookings Institution, Federal News Radio’s Suzanne Kubota writes that that the transfer payment (e.g., unemployment insurance extension) and tax reduction elements of the bill got up and running quickly and the direct spending programs in the bill are taking a longer time to get monies out.  This is no real surprise to government watchers – transfer payments and tax rebates don’t require much in the way of program guidance and are largely check-writing operations!

As for the direct payment programs, though, there’s more guidance and reporting.  And there are many more players involved.  Much of the media has focused on transparency of the funding.  This is provided via sites from non-profits, the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, individual federal agencies, and individual states.

However, how about information for those who have to implement the direct spending programs in federal agencies, states, and localities?  Interestingly, many helpful sites are springing up to aid those in government trying to get it right:

The Council of State Governments has created a Recovery Act website – — that aggregates useful information for state officials.

The National League of Cities has dedicated a webpage to Recovery Act news, organized by policy areas where dollars are available (e.g., public safety).

The Association for Government Accountants has created a Recovery Act webpage for its members who have to administer the funds.

Government Executive magazine has created a “Stimulus Checklist” to help feds keep up with what’s going on, along with a series of webinars and forums.

And of course, the Office of Management and Budget has a list of its guidance.

Do you have a favorite resource?  Feel free to add via the “comment” box!


More Advice to New Appointees

January 8, 2009

Here’s some sage advice from a “pair who’ve been there.”  Tom Korologos was a former presidential advisor in Republican administrations; Ed DeSeve was Clinton’s deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget.


In a piece for the Washington Post, “Obama Nominees, Take Note,” Korologos offers advice on how to successfully navigate a Senate confirmation hearing.  For example, he notes:  Hearings can be judged by the 80-20 rule. If the senators are speaking 80 percent of the time, you’re doing fine. If it’s 60-40, you are arguing with them. If it’s 50-50, you’ve blown it.”

DeSeve has a new book out, “The Presidential Appointee’s Handbook,” published by the Brookings Institution.  In a column on it for Government Executive magazine, he highlights the six competencies  he sees as especially important for top-level appointees.  These include: leading for results; managing change, speaking the same language (as your employees); leading others, leading yourself, and thinking globally.

Working in the White House

December 19, 2008
by Brad Patterson

by Brad Patterson

Today, President-Elect Obama will largely wrap up his cabinet nominations.  He’ll likely start filling out his White House staff next.  This will number around 900 or so folks.  What do they do and how do they work together? 

There’s a great new book out by Brad Patterson, “To Serve the President: Continuity and Innovation in the White House Staff,” that should be the bible of every new White House staffer (and any Administration appointee who is trying to figure out how the White House works).  It should be part of every orientation given to new White House staffers.

Patterson’s book is full of facts and good advice.  He started working in the White House under President Eisenhower, so he brings a seasoned perspective.

Did you know there are 135 different offices in the White House that serve as the primary support units for the President?  Of these, 95 are policy units.  The newest, created by President Bush, include the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, the Office of the USA Freedom Corps, and the Office of Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.  The other 40 units are comprised of nonpolitical professionals and constitute three-quarters of the White House staff.  These include grounds-keepers, the visitors center, records management, photographers, military support, and the mail room.  In total, nearly 6,600 staff work for the White House.  By Patterson’s definition, this does not include staff in the seven statutory offices that are part of the overall Executive Office of the President, such as the Office of Management and Budget or the Office of the US Trade Representative. 

Patterson’s book details what each of the 135 different offices do and provides some historical context of how they evolved.

Patterson says his goals were to “provide the president-elect with an accurate picture of the contemporary White House,” and to “paint a factual, nonpartisan picture of the White House at work.”  He concludes: “Before launching any innovations, future White House managers need to know what it is they are reforming.”  His book serves as the definitive baseline of understanding.

Brookings Launches Transition Website

November 10, 2008

The Brookings Institution says it has been providing advice to newly-elected presidents for the past 90 years. For this transition, it has assembled a multi-faceted set of web-based resources to assist the Obama Transition Team.

The project director, Darrell West, says Brookings will host a dozen forums related to the transition. The first was held last week. According to Government Executive’s Robert Brodsky, the first forum, held last week, hosted a bipartisan panel of political veterans who agreed that Obama’s initial agenda should be targeted to stabilizing the financial markets and curbing the recession.

The website has a dozen policy-related memos to the president-elect in areas such as foreign affairs, energy, and the tax system.

Stephen Hess’s open memo of advice in the Washington Post to President-Elect Obama is based on his new “Workbook for the President-Elect.”

In addition, the site will post weekly podcasts with updates.

Transition Team Resource Guide

November 4, 2008

white-house-south-lawn By the end of the day, we’ll know whose transition team picks up the keys to the transition office in downtown Washington DC tomorrow.

(UPDATED: November 15, 2008).

The transition team itself will start to grow quickly.  Based on past history, it could range in size from 300 to over 1,000 members.  Most will be volunteers, some will be paid, few (if any) will be federal employees.  So, most won’t know their way around the federal government.  Here’s a quick resource guide:

The GSA Presidential Transition Website.  The General Services Administration is the designated administrative resource for the transition team.  This site provides basic background information on the transition and GSA’s role. 

The Presidential Transition Resources Directory.  This site is a joint effort between GSA and the National Archives to provide the transition team with baseline information about how the government works.  This will be the “go to” place for government information.

The Obama Transition Website.  Here is the Transition Team’s official website. —  It encourages visitors to contribute their impressions, a blog, information on the progress of the transition, and a place to submit interest in working in the Obama Administration.

The Plum Book.  The Senate worked with the Office of Personnel Management to develop this inventory of all policy-making and political appointments.  It will be the baseline for identifying where positions will be available, by agency.  It will become a hot item for all transition team staffers.

The Prune Book On-Line.  The non-partisan, non-profit Council for Excellence in Government has created a guide to a subset of 114 key jobs listed in the Plum Book.  It describes the challenges of what previous office-holders have faced in those positions (such as the head of the IRS) and what skills would be most useful to be successful in those jobs. 

Agency Performance Links.  The Office of Management and Budget created a useful “go to” webpage with every agency’s strategic plans, performance plans, performance reports, and program-level assessments.  A useful baseline of what’s going on!

Wiki Inventory of Think Tank Transition Efforts.  The 1105 Government Information Group has created a wiki inventory of what different think tanks and other groups are doing to provide insights and recommendations related to management improvements in government.

Political Appointee Roadmap.  The Council for Excellence in Government has created an interactive roadmap for potential political appointees.  It tailors a checklist of action steps to be taken, depending on whether you’re looking for an appointment for a Presidential Appointment with Senate Confirmation, or a lower-level Schedule C position. 

The Operator’s Manual for the New Administration. The IBM Center put together this manual to help incoming agency leaders navigate their way around their agency’s main management systems.  It can be helpful to transition team members, especially those in “parachute teams” visiting agencies, to frame a quick understanding of what’s going on.

Getting It Done:  A Guide for Government Executives.  Another IBM Center resource, this guide helps incoming agency leaders gain a quick understanding of how to get things done.  It can be a useful resource for prospective appointees so they can understand who the key stakeholders are that they’ll need to be dealing with, and initial steps they can take to be successful in their jobs.

White House Staff Guide.  Brad Patterson has updated his 2000 book that inventories office-by-office what goes on in the White House complex.  For anyone working in a White House, this is a detailed “how to” manual that provides a baseline for how it works today.  This 475-page book can be order from the Brookings Institution.

If there are other great links you think would be helpful to the transition team, let me know and I’ll add them here or in the wiki!

Recent Media on Transition

August 1, 2008

Here are three interesting links to stories from the past week:


Marc Ambinder, a blogger for The, reported on July 24th: ”Obama Team Begins Work on Presidential Transition.”  People following how good transition work probably breathed a sigh of relief that at least one candidate is beginning to think about the complexity of moving from campaigning to governing.  Of course the various people named as being involved all declined to comment!


The Washington Post’s David Broder editorialized in his July 27th column on “Management 101 for Senators.”  He pointed out that senators typically do not have executive management experience and are unfamiliar with the mechanics of how a White House works.  He recommends an upcoming new book, by Brookings scholar Brad Patterson, which is an office-by-office guide to how the Executive Office of the President is organized, with historical background on each office.  The book was first published in 2000.  I found it to be invaluable in understanding the internal operations of the White House.  However, it excludes some key functions in the Executive Office, such as the Office of Management and Budget, that will be important to understand in the overall context of how to govern.  The 2008 version isn’t actually available yet, but will be worth waiting for!


This past week’s issue of Federal Times published an op-ed by Paul Lawrence, a vice president at Accenture, entitled:  The Next Administration Should Let Agencies Lead Reform.”  He observes that over the past 16 years, management reforms have been led out of the White House and that it’s time to consider :an agency-specific approach in which agencies take the lead in assessing what reforms are needed within their own organizations.”  He recommends that the White House ask each new agency head to prepare a management improvement plan and hold them accountable for what they promise to deliver.  Lawrence says that this should create a more collaborative working relationship among agencies and be focused on improving services and results to Americans, not be as focused on internal agency management fixes.

Think Tanks and Other Players: 2008 (Part I)

April 1, 2008

The ThinkerThis is a start of an inventory of who is doing what in terms of developing management advice and support to the incoming President. Since a mix of efforts undertaken by various think tanks and other groups in 2000 helped create a useful bridge in that transition, hopefully similar efforts are underway in 2008. This initial inventory should give you some sense of who is doing what, where the holes are, and where there are opportunities for collaboration.

We’ve divided the various players into four groups: think tanks, government, academics, and other groups. We’re open to other ways of organizing this and, of course, any updates, corrections, or additions. The intended focus of this inventory is on groups supporting government management and the transition – not those groups focusing exclusively on policy issues (that list would be far too long!). There’s at some point a gray area, but this is the general rule of thumb imposed went creating this list. Also, there are oftentimes ongoing collaborative efforts among these different groups and we may not have gotten all these efforts properly described.

October 20, 2008 Update:  NOTE:  This blog entry has been the most popular of all the entries in 2008.  As a result, in conjunctions with Federal Computer Week, these entries are now posted on a wiki site and are regularly updated.  Visit that site and bookmark it!

Think Tank Players

Government Performance Coalition. The Coalition is comprised of a range of good government groups. It has been sponsoring a website on transition issues since March 2007. It is also coordinating a series of seminars on key management issues, such as the February 2008 Government Performance Summit, sponsored by the Performance Institute, and the March 2008 Human Capital Forum, hosted by the Partnership for Public Service. It aspires to develop a set of recommended actions for the next Administration based on these efforts.

IBM Center for The Business of Government. The Center sponsors this blog and recently posted a set of issue briefs on selected issues. It plans to develop a set of management resources and a guide for new appointees. It is also sponsoring a series of collaborative seminars that could result in recommendations to the next Administration on selected topics, such as improving contracting.

Council for Excellence in Government. CEG plans to continue its famous “Prune Book” but make it an on-line version this time. It is also providing pre-transition assistance to the Department of Homeland Security since, as a new department, it has never experienced a presidential transition before. It is also partnering with other groups on related projects.

National Academy for Public Administration. NAPA is also assisting Homeland Security by inventorying the Department’s executive staff positions. A group of Academy Fellows is drafting a series of papers on key management capacity challenges facing the next Administration as well. The Academy is also collaborating with other groups on related projects.

Partnership for Public Service. The Partnership has already co-sponsored a forum on human capital issues facing the next Administration, with CNA Corporation, the Coalition for Effective Change, and others, and plans to summarize insights that came out of that forum. It also plans to gather lessons learned from previous government reform efforts and offer recommendations to the new Administration.

American Society for Public Administration. The Society does not have a specific project but its professional journal, Public Administration Review, plans to publish a series of articles related to presidential transition over the coming year. It is also running a column with questions and answers on government reform with the presidential candidates. It is also coordinating a coalition of good government groups to develop a letter to candidates to encourage access to government by young people interested in public service.

Association of Government Accountants. AGA plans to co-sponsor a forum with NAPA on the role of chief financial officers in the next Administration and the human capital challenges in the federal financial community. Together they may offer recommendations or insights to the incoming Administration.

Center for the Study of the Presidency. The Center is sponsoring several efforts related to the transition. One, which is more strategy-oriented, is “Agenda 2008: A Nation at Risk,” which defines organizational challenges facing the next President. The more specific effort is its sponsorship of the Project on National Security Reform, which is devoted to rethinking the National Security Act of 1947 which created the Defense Department.

Heritage Foundation. Heritage has just published a new book, “Keys to a Successful Presidency,” which offers insights to a new President.

Brookings Institution. Brookings is sponsoring an update to Brad Patterson’s book, “The White House Staff.” It may also sponsor and work collaboratively with others on related transition issues. It’s emphasis at this point is more policy-oriented via its Opportunity ’08 initiative.

American Enterprise Institute. AEI plans to gather lessons learned from past government reform efforts and reenergize its effort to streamline the presidential nomination and Senate confirmation process, in conjunction with the Brookings Institution.

Reason Public Policy Institute. Reason plans to host a forum this summer of top experts to craft a set of recommendations on how the next President can use competitive sourcing approaches. It also plans to focus research on transportation funding issues the next Administration will be facing when the transportation bill comes up for reauthorization.

Government Players

General Services Administration. GSA serves as the administrative arm for the President-Elect’s Transition Team by providing office space and equipment. It also is required by a 2000 law to develop a transition directory, which was a website in 2000. The same law makes GSA responsible for delivering orientation training for new political appointees.

National Archives and Records Administration. NARA is responsible for the out-going President’s records and it is responsible, by law, for assisting GSA in developing a transition directory.

Office of Personnel Management. OPM is responsible for cataloging all the political appointee positions, which are published as the “Plum Book” by congressional committees. In 2000, it also published a guide for executives on personnel rules associated with the transition.

Government Accountability Office. Since 1988, GAO has developed both a list of High Risk Areas and transition reports that assess key cross-cutting management issues and agency-specific issues. For 2008, GAO will likely continue its High Risk list and reprise its “21st Century Challenges” report, but may not publish a separate series of transition reports. It will likely provide a series of short issue briefs to the incoming transition team, Congress, and appointees based on what it has found in its reviews over the years and its advice on improvements the new Administration may want to undertaken.

House and Senate government oversight committees. These committees publish the Plum Book and historically the House committee develops a report on the state of management in the federal government based on reviews of GAO and inspector general reports.

* * * *

Since this is getting to be a bit long, I’ll continue the inventory in my next blog entry with the academic and other groups. Meanwhile, your additions and revisions are welcome!