Posts Tagged ‘Ed DeSeve’

Lessons Learned: Past Political Appointees

May 12, 2009

DeSeveCoverIf you had a high level job, what advice would you leave for your successor?

The IBM Center released a new report today: “Speeding Up the Learning Curve:  Observations from a Survey of Seasoned Political Appointees,” by Ed DeSeve.  The survey was jointly sponsored by the National Academy of Public Administration, the Partnership for Public Service, and the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute.  At the time of the survey, DeSeve was with the Fels Institute.

According to the Washington Post, there are about 500 top political appointees that are appointed by the President to lead major federal agencies whose appointments must be confirmed by the Senate.  The outgoing Senate- confirmed appointees of President George W. Bush shared their insights in this September 2008 survey.  This was a seasoned group of appointees, often with prior public service.

Survey respondents offered six observations:

  • Knowledge of ethical standards and financial disclosure rules is needed to be rapidly effective.  This is especially true during the confirmation process, but this knowledge was seen as especially important in the early months in office.  Along with this came the need to be clear on what was expected of them.  Appointees wanted direction on how they would be measured in their jobs by the White House, as well.
  • Performance and results matter.  Survey respondents said they thought that two dimensions of performance were important or very important:  measuring organizational results, and evaluating employee performance.  Setting standards of performance and measuring progress against those standards was seen as more important than financial, contract, or pay and benefits management.
  • Policy development and implementation depend on understanding processes.  Appointees said four factors ranked high: (21) understanding the president’s priorities, (2) knowing how the executive branch works, (3) understanding the budget process, and (4) mastering the policy development process.
  • Managing relationships matter.  The group rated relationships with the Office of Management and Budget, career employees, and Congress were at the top of their list.
  • Leadership is a key competency.  All appointees surveyed cited leadership as an important competency.  This was followed closely by negotiation and communication skills.
  • Support of career executives is critical.  The survey indicated that successful political appointees felt career executives provided them with three essential ingredients:  (1) knowledge of the agency’s policies and processes, (2) support for the goals of new leaders, and (3) an understanding of the agency’s internal culture.

Of the 66 survey respondents, 56 percent noted that it took four or more months from the time they were officially nominated until confirmation.  In 10 percent of the cases, the time required was 10 months or more. (BTW, as of today, there are 100 people confirmed to top positions. . . .15 percent of the total).


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!

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.