Posts Tagged ‘Don Kettl’

Using Czars and Commissions to Govern

March 20, 2009

Happy first day of Spring! 


Yesterday, the Office of Management and Budget announced that Ed DeSeve has been appointed a special advisor to oversee the implementation of the Recovery Act.  DeSeve, a former deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, will work with Vice President Biden and his Recovery Act task force to ensure the government gets intended results, for the best value.


There have been several media articles commenting on the increased use of White House “czars” to lead different initiatives for the Obama Administration.  For example, the National Journal’s Amy Harder, raised concerns about a possible “executive power grab.”


There are different ways of looking at this.  This blog was launched two years ago, in part, to track the evolution of how we govern.  The initial post asked readers to comment on Professor Don Kettl’s provocative paper (which is now a book, “The Next Government of the United States”). Well, now it is the Next Government.  The traditional “Vending Machine” model of government that he describes doesn’t work any longer for the challenges we’re facing.  And Obama is adopting the new tools Kettl predicted would be needed to act boldly in an ever-changing environment.  But how do you keep track of a government that works across organizational boundaries?


The old approach was to reorganize government.  The new approach is to work with networks.  But how do you make sense of the dozens of connections?  Long-time network theorists, Jessica Lipnack and Jeffrey Stamps, have been puzzling over this in large corporations.  They’ve turned their attention to government.  Here’s how they’ve created a new “virtual” government organization chart (be patient, it takes a few moments for the software to load, and no, it’s not a virus).  It’s based on the published organization charts of agencies  . . . you can move your cursor to different agencies and you’ll see the connections between organizations recalibrate from that node’s perspective.


While that’s a neat visual, how can you use it “for real?”  Well, Lipnack and Stamps constructed a sample around the programs funded under the Recovery Act.  You can theoretically (once the data are available via the website) trace a grant or contract from the program all the way down to the recipient, and all the intervening connections.  The paths for accountability become clearer with these kinds of graphical depictions.  Maps “on the fly” like this can help both citizens and oversight organizations better understand what is happening – without having to formally reorganize government agencies.


Allowing greater agility in how the executive branch is governed, such as through task forces and other temporary structures, can allow quicker responsiveness.  Providing greater transparency and graphical visualization of complex information are new tools for providing public understanding and accountability.  And it seems President Obama is willing to use them!

Is the Vending Machine Broken?

February 9, 2009

Dr. Donald Kettl says the “vending machine” model of government is increasingly obsolete.  His analogy of a vending machine – where politicians put money in, and out comes a public service through the slot – not only is obsolete, but may prove to be broken when the flood of stimulus money is released.  The better analogy may be the Iraqi power grid after the 2003 invasion. We thought the war damage just needed repaired when in fact the whole system had collapsed because it was dysfunctional in the first place.


Is this just hype?  Maybe not.  USA Today’s front page headline this morning was “$3.9 Billion in Hurricane Aid Still Unspent.”


Why is this a problem?  Well, the typical policy-to-delivery cycle in the federal government takes about five years:    from the point of drafting a bill to authorization, to appropriation, to drafting the program rules, to staffing the program, to competing the grants or contracts, to subcontracting the award at the front line, to the actual delivery of a service.  But the stimulus bill seems to crunch that cycle down to a period of less than15 months.


Not only is the timeframe compressed under the draft stimulus bill, but there are added rules:  grants and contracts must be competed, environmental impact statements cannot be shortcut, US-made steel has to be used in construction. And about a quarter of a billion dollars has been added for oversight. 


But what about implementation?  The latest stimulus bill does recognize “administrative” costs by providing some additional dollars.  However, it is not clear whether these dollars equal or exceed what is being fenced for oversight.  But even if there is a flood of dollars for program management, the hiring, training, and deployment of needed staff cannot be measured in weeks (as assumed) but in months or years.  And the dollars are for a time-limited period, so those being hired would face temporary positions.


The solution may not lie only in additional dollars for staff, but in how government organizes to act.  Right now, the bill authorizes an oversight board – to be headed by the deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget — but not an execution or delivery board.  And someone probably needs to be given authority to waive rules (authority like Secretary Paulson was given to manage the bailout funds, in Sec. 135 of that bill).  This could be seen as undemocratic, but without someone having the authority to cut the Gordian Knot of bureaucracy, large portions of the stimulus bill will likely never be spent, since funding for many of the programs in the bill seem to expire on September 30, 2010.  It is “use it or lose it” and the red tape of traditional program implementation may cause it to be lost.


Another step might be to take Dr. Kettl’s advice on creating government-wide collaborative networks and use them to share resources and best practices, and develop joint rules via wikis, etc.  But this would require strong leadership from the center, and a strong willingness to work across agency and program boundaries.  This is typically counter to what Congress and inspectors general have been historically comfortable with, for accountability reasons.  Examples of efforts to work across agency boundaries, such as the Bush-era e-government efforts, were oftentimes blocked even though they offered the potential of saving hundreds of millions of dollars.


But if Congress wants the stimulus monies spent in a way that at least roughly matches what it intends, then it may want to provide new authorities and mechanisms to allow the executive branch to get the job done, because the old vending machine model may not work anymore.

The Next Government

July 29, 2008
Dr. Don Kettl

Dr. Don Kettl

This past week, I missed a hearing that seemed to be 2008’s version of the reinvention hearing, featuring a series of speakers offering insights on what the next administration might do to improve government performance.  But the wonders of the internet allowed me to find out what happened.  It was held by a Senate subcommittee and featured Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, Dr. Donald Kettl, staff from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and several federal agencies executives.


Governor O’Malley described his Maryland “State-Stat” approach to fostering improved performance on statewide priorities.  GAO described the results of its recent survey of federal employees on their use of performance information, federal agencies offered their performance initiatives.  But Dr. Kettl spoke more cosmically.  He’s writing a book called “The Next Government of the United States,” and his testimony captured the high points of the book, and the challenges of management reform facing the next president:


·      “There is no obvious next step in reforming the government.”  He observes that for the first time in decades, the next step in management reform is not clear, there is no road map (but he later begins to offer one!).


·      We have run the natural course of current management reforms.” He describes cyclical patterns of reforms over the past 125 years and concludes: “There is no best seller, no ideological prescription, no buzzword.”  He notes that the last cycle of reforms (Reagan through G.W. Bush) used structural reorganization and procedural changes to improve efficiency, but that these tools are likely to be ineffective against the problems looming ahead.


·      “The costs for failing to develop the next generation of management reforms will be large and punishing.”  He notes that September 11 and Hurricane Katrina showed that our existing strategies for running the federal government are not up to the challenges of the 21st century.


·      ’Simply continuing the reform efforts of the last two administrations will prove inadequate.”  Efforts to create accountability around programs or agencies (Program Assessment Rating Tool, Government Performance and Results Act), or efforts to create accountability around administrative processes or functions (President’s Management Agenda, Chief Information Officers, Chief Financial Officers) “are increasingly a poor match for the problems we are trying to solve.”


·      “We now need a new reform effort that focuses squarely on promoting collaboration among agencies instead of pursuing more strategies that reinforce existing stovepipes.”  He says “the federal government must increasingly bring a place-based and person-driven focus to its traditionally functional approach.”  He pointed to Governor O’Malley’s “State-Stat” approach as one way of doing this.


·      “We know how to do this.”  This reform effort, Kettl notes, is being used.  He pointed to government executives, such as Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who led the collaborative response to Hurricane Katrina after FEMA failed in its effort.


Dr. Kettl says the next president needs to build on, not scrap, past reforms.  Action steps include: 


·      Put a presidential focus on outcomes, especially on those reaching across agency boundaries.

·      Develop a geographic-information-system-based set of performance measures.  He believes this will drive collaboration across functional boundaries to produce results citizens expect.

·      Have the Office of Personnel Management invest in the nation’s government managers to make them better results-driven leaders.

·      Create a White House performance czar – someone in the immediate office of the president – whose sole job is to focus the efforts of the executive branch on producing results.


While Kettl’s ideas may seem, well, academic or idealistic, many are actually underway in some respects.  For example, the Key National Indicators Initiative will have a geographic-based set of performance measures.  The key element, however, will be a presidential commitment.

“Not My Mission” Syndrome

February 6, 2008

John Kamensky, Senior Fellow, IBM Center for The Business of GovernmentThe bureaucratic culture is increasingly failing to address key national challenges. Professor Don Kettl has observed: “The current conduct of American government is a poor match for the problems it must solve.”

This is reinforced by a series of recent news stories, which I’ve characterized as “It’s Not My Mission” syndrome:

· The Defense Department has been confronting the use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in Iraq. It created the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) to tackle that problem. That Organization was given billions to find ways to disable the devices before they exploded. An alternative is to stop the bombers from planting them. But that’s the job of military intelligence, not JIEDDO.

· Homeland Security is spending billions to build fences and secure the border, especially in the south because of illegal immigrants. However, it is not in its mission to discourage illegal immigrants from wanting to cross the border in the first place –that responsiblity belongs to another agency.

· Food safety agencies have jurisdiction over different types of food, so as the Government Accountability Office has noted, different agencies inspect the production of pizzas with meat than those with just cheese.

Some of these examples are serious, others are just aggravating. The next president will be faced with finding ways to get the government to make a difference for the country. Likely it will not be through reorganization, creating new agencies, or creating more bureaucracy. But getting agencies to collaborate is not easy – ensuring accountability is always an issue, sharing resources is difficult, and administrative or legislative constraints are sometimes a problem.

Dr. Charles Hecksher, who has examined this same problem in the business world, notes that corporations in the 20th century successfully created strategies to master scope and scale in order to produce and distribute for mass consumer market. It was product-oriented, and was suited to the efficiencies associated with hierarchical organizations. Government copied this model. But this requires more collaborative organizations that allow adaptability and the ability to handle complexity. This is a solutions orientation.

The challenge for the next President is to get the government to move to a solutions orientation.

Presidential Campaign Update

January 30, 2008

John Kamensky, Senior Fellow, IBM Center for The Business of GovernmentWhen we started this blog back in April 2007, we thought that government management issues would not be a campaign issue until probably after the Democrats and Republicans had chosen their candidates.  We thought that would possibly be after the February 5th  “Super Tuesday” primaries.  At this point, that’s not clear, but there do seem to be a pair of candidates from each party and all four have addresses leadership style and management issues in their campaigns to date.  Thanks to two observers – Tom Shoop’s FedBlog on Government Executive’s website and Don Kettl’s NextGovernment website via the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute of Government – we can put together a quick snapshot.

 Democrats Senator Barak Obama.  Senator Obama, during the Nevada primary, noted:  I’m not an operating officer. Some in this debate around experience seem to think the job of the president is to go in and run some bureaucracy. Well, that’s not my job. My job is to set a vision of ‘here’s where the bureaucracy needs to go.’” During the campaign, he has offered a set of proposals to “restore trust and transparency:”

  • Close the “revolving door” by restricting lobbying by former officials
  • End the abuse of “no bid” contracts by requiring competition on all contracts over $25,000
  • Restore “objectivity” to the executive branch by, among other things, banning an ideological litmus test for hiring career employees in the executive branch.
  • Shine light on lobbying by, among other things, creating a searchable database of lobbying reports and campaign finances.
  • Give government “back to the people” by, among other things, requiring cabinet officials to hold town meetings and more public meetings for regulatory agencies.

 Senator Hillary Clinton.  Senator Clinton in response to Senator Obama’s Nevada comments were:  I do think that being president is the chief executive officer. I respect what Barack said about setting the vision, setting the tone, bringing people together. But I think you have to be able to manage and run the bureaucracy. You’ve got to pick good people, certainly, but you have to hold them accountable every single day.” During her campaign, she devoted a speech to government reform, with a 10-point plan Her proposals include:

  • Creating a Public Service Academy
  • Restoring competitive bidding to government contracting
  • Reducing the number of government contractors by 500,000
  • Publishing budgets for every agency within 48 hours of their submission to Congress
  • Implementing a “Results America” initiative that would track government effectiveness
  • Tracking and eliminating “corporate welfare.”

 Republicans Senator John McCain.  In the recent Florida primary, Senator McCain was quoted as saying: “I think everybody knows the difference between leadership and management. . . You can hire managers all the time, people who do the mechanics, people who implement policies, people who are good with assets. Leadership is people who inspire… Leadership is people who have had hands on experience with patriotism and service to the nation… Leadership is the ability to inspire and the ability to make Americans serve causes greater than their self-interest.” During his campaign, he has mentioned a number of specific proposals, according to Kettl’s Fels Institute website:

  • Stop earmarked spending
  • Stop the “revolving door” and restore ethics
  • Reorganize the federal bureaucracy and subject federal employees to the pressures of the private sector
  • Attract the finest public servants and  equip them with the newest technology
  • Change government to make it smaller, less expensive, better skilled, and more dedicated to the national interest.
  • Make federal employees more accountable.

  Governor Mitt Romney.  As the only candidate of the top four who has executive experience in both government and the private sector, Governor Romney says, “I think Americans are looking for people who can get the job done and can do it in a setting where there are two parties. Governors know how to do that.”

During his campaign, he seems to have said very little about specific management-related proposals, according to Kettl’s Fels Institute website.  He advocates stronger consequences for unethical behavior, advocates allowing the President to spend up to 25 percent less than the Congress appropriates, and wants to “cut out the unnecessary and wasteful.”

Tracking Promises

January 2, 2008

I’ve occasionally tried to summarize what the different presidential candidates have been propokamensky-blog-photo.jpgsing in terms of how they would manage the government differently.

But today’s Washington Post Federal Diary column by Steve Barr highlights a new website that will keep us all current on what’s going on! 

Barr highlights, by Don Kettl, director of the Fels Instiute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania.  Kettl summarizes in a nifty matrix what the different candidates are saying about how they will address key management challenges.   Kettl also provides useful summarizes of some of the key challenges the next president is facing in areas such as budgeting, personnel, technology, and organizational structure. . . . which is what I’ve been blogging about, as well! 

Dr. Kettl also references his 2005 report for the IBM Center: “The Next Government of the United States:  Challenges for Performance in the 21st  Century,” which helped served as the kick-off for this blog back in April 2007. 

Hope you enjoy both his new website, and my upcoming blog entries in the coming year!