Posts Tagged ‘DHS’

Holdovers, Acting, and Trickling In

January 26, 2009

In its first week in office, the Obama Administration is experiencing the usual shuffling of government.  Three articles provide the flavor of what’s going on.


The Washington Post’s Spencer Hsu, in “Many Bush Officials Held Over at DHS” describes how the transition is being handling in a responsible manner in a critical agency:  Wary of being caught short-handed in case of a domestic crisis, the Obama administration has asked nearly two dozen Bush administration officials in the Department of Homeland Security to stay in their jobs until successors can be named.” Hsu notes correctly that this attempt at continuity is unusual.


Government Executive’s Alyssa Rosenberg notes in her blog entry “Acting Positions for Everyone!”  that there is a rapid series of appointments, even replacing acting officials in the Office of Personnel Management and General Services Administration with new acting officials.


Another Post article, by Joel Achenbach and Amy Goldstein, “For Political Appointees, a Trickle-In Theory,” describes how new political appointees in agencies are finding their way around.  They follow Sean Smith as he arrives to his new position at the Department of Homeland Security to find his desk, his temporary ID badge, and few colleagues.


Achenbach and Goldstein note: “The filling-in of offices along the corridors radiating from the secretary’s sanctum typically takes months, as the Senate’s sense of urgency fades. In recent years, individual senators have more frequently blocked nominations.”


“. . . . Slowing everything further is a new culture of intensive vetting. Ethics rules have been tightened, and background checks have become more thorough. A would-be Obama administration official must answer a 63-item questionnaire that asks, among other things, if he or she has ever written an e-mail or penned a diary entry that might embarrass the administration.”


But changes are occurring: the TVs in the main lobby of the Labor Department building are now tuned to CNN, they note, after years of Fox News!  And newly sworn-in secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was given a map of the 8 miles of corridors of his building.  He was the first of 227 political appointees in the department to show up for work. 


The Transition Out

January 13, 2009

There’s only a week left in the Bush Administration.  Some remaining appointees are probably feeling a bit left behind since it will be hard to find new jobs in this economy.  However, the departing team has received kudos from many in a number of areas as they try to have an effective transition process.  In fact, they seem to have read the January 2009 Harvard Business Review piece by Thomas Friel and Robert Duboff, “How to Ace Your Last 100 Days.”
Interagency Transition Councils.  Last week was the final meeting of the Presidential Transition Coordinating Council, an interagency group of high level Bush Administration officials meeting with top members of the 1,000-person Obama transition effort (which has over 100 teams!).  The coordinating council was created by executive order in October.
An interagency career-level transition council was also formed.  This seems to have been a “first” in transitions. Mid-summer, OMB asked agencies to designate a career senior executive who would be the point person for their agency during the transition.  These officials were convened as an interagency group several times to share best practices.
Tying Up Loose Ends.  The outgoing Bush Administration left some parting gifts that should help ease the incoming team’s transition by providing a baseline.  For example, last week it released two-page “performance snapshots” for each agency, which included their mission statement, organization, budget, and performance and financial results.  They’ve also tried to clean up some administrative loose ends, such as the memo attempting to streamline the security clearance process.
Accelerating Appointments.  The outgoing administration seems to be providing significant support to the incoming team in getting the incoming team cleared through administrative hurdles related to political appointments.  In 2001, only 29 officials had been confirmed and put in place after the first 100 days.  The joint goal in 2009 is to have 100 officials in place after the first 100 days.  The FBI, Office of Government Ethics, and staff in individual agencies seem to be helping.
Designating Acting Officials.  Agencies seem to be systematically designating career officials to serve in acting roles.  The agency with the best public track record to date is the Department of Homeland Security.
Practicing for the Worst.  The outgoing Administration also arranged a joint disaster exercise so the incoming officials could see what the current capacities are for handling disasters during the uncertain periods of a transition.  A major exercise was held this morning, according to the Washington Post.
Burrowing In.  The media has focused on some contentious issues such as cases where political appointees have “burrowed in” to the career civil service.  The Washington Post seems to be following this closely in a series of stories:  positions in the Interior Department were highlighted, as well as Commerce and Energy, but other positions were documented as well.
 However the instances they’ve uncovered seem to be at a lesser level than prior administrations, based on past GAO reports.
Midnight Regulations.  The White House chief of staff Josh Bolten publicly announced in mid-2008 that the Bush Administration would not issue any “midnight regulations,” at the last minute in the Administration.  Again, media reports suggest that there may have been some breaches to this policy in areas such as off-shore drilling, access to lands in the West, logging, and relaxing some consumer protection and environmental rules.  Some also lump last-minute executive orders in this category, such as Bush’s removal of certain agencies from the jurisdiction of the Federal Labor-Relations purview in December.  However, the instances of their use still seem less than in prior administrations.  Only the remaining week will tell, though!
Pardons.  President Bush has been historically parsimonious in his use of pardons.  His use has increased in recent months, but a recent snafu in examining candidates led to one person being pardoned who had his pardon rescinded the next day after there was a hint of possible impropriety in his release.  Again, there’s a week left, but it seems he has used this power sparingly.  Still, maybe he’ll pardon those in the Clinton Administration who removed the “W” keys from the White House computers during the last transition!
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When the history of the Obama Transition is written, likely much will be made of how organized it was and how it made effective use of its early days in office.  The outgoing team, though, will likely have a positive footnote in that history.  It would be a great step if some academics – or insiders from both the Bush and Obama teams — were to document the Obama transition effort to validate the impressions I’ve gotten, but more importantly to capture best practices that future presidents and transition teams might use.

Transition Planning at Homeland Security

June 26, 2008

Department of Homeland SecurityHere’s an update on my earlier blog on national security transition. 


Today’s Washington Post reports that a study by the National Academy of Public Administration concludes that the Department of Homeland Security is lagging in its planning efforts to prepare for the presidential transition.  However, even given this conclusion, the Department’s efforts far outpace efforts underway in other agencies.


There has been a high level of concern in Congress that there be a smooth transition, in part because of a fear of a terrorist attack during or after the presidential election.  This concern has been heightened by reports that the Department has undergone a number of internal reorganizations in recent years and that, as a new department, this will be its first transition. As a consequence, Congress requested the Academy to conduct this study late last year. 


The Academy said in the introduction to its report: 


“. . .  the President must have in place a cadre of leaders and advisors whom he or she trusts and who:

·      Are politically empowered to act.

·     Can fully grasp the significance of the available intelligence

·      Have the experience and mettle necessary to act on that intelligence

·     Are intimately familiar with the National Response Framework and the roles and responsibilities of the many players

·      Have established relationships with relevant private sector partners and government officials (both career and political) in their own department, in other federal departments, at the State and local level, and internationally who will need to mobilize resources to prevent or respond to a terrorist attack.


Having these foundations established and experience in place cannot be imparted by a briefing book; there will be no time for “on-the-job” training.”


The report addresses several issues:


·     The adequacy of DHS executive resources, including the mix of career vs. political appointees (on par with other agencies)

·     An assessment of gaps in the DHS senior leadership structure (over a quarter of the 248 senior executive positions are vacant)

·     DHS training initiatives for transition readiness (balanced efforts underway)

·     An assessment of the DHS transition plans to date (comprehensive strategy still needed)


The report offers a series of recommendations, stretching from pre-convention to post-inauguration.  For example, designating a full-time transition director in the Department now, reaching out to presidential candidates to encourage them to name a homeland security transition team early, and conducting comprehensive scenario exercises after the election to acquaint the new designated-appointees with the operational capacities of the Department.


The Academy’s expert panel that prepared the report concluded with several broad insights, which begin to set the stage for the next Administration:


“First, the Panel believes that there is more work to do to overcome resistance to DHS headquarters’ role in integrating the work of the individual components. This was one of the founding goals for the department. Second, the Panel notes the problems created for DHS by the multiple congressional oversight committees to which it reports. The Panel found that this oversight has stretched DHS resources, made it difficult to enact important legislation and created a potential for policy disarray.”


A separate effort to assist the Department in its transition planning effort is being undertaken by the Council for Excellence in Government.  The Council was asked to map out the “national response framework” for how the federal government would respond in an emergency, especially one that reaches across organizational boundaries within DHS, across other federal departments, and state and local governments.  According to a story in Government Executive magazine, the Council assembled a bipartisan blue-ribbon panel to help guide the work.  In addition: “The council will run 30-person, interactive workshops beginning next July, at which federal officials and other experts will go through potential scenarios and discuss a curriculum of what they need to know to make the transition smooth.  At a minimum, incoming appointees should know what information they need in an emergency, the people with whom they need to communicate and the method of communication,” according to Council President Patricia McGinnis.


The Council will also sponsor workshops for incoming political appointees so they can understand their roles and the capacities of their organizations as well as what goes on at the local and state levels during an emergency response.


Like the Academy, the Council will provide its insights in coming months as well.