Posts Tagged ‘General Services Administration’

Obama Appointees: Not Yet Halfway There

August 24, 2009

“Seven months into his presidency, fewer than half of his top appointees are in place advancing his agenda,” notes Peter Baker in a New York Times story, “Obama’s Team Is Lacking Most of Its Top Players.”

He goes on to say: “Of more than 500 senior policymaking positions requiring Senate confirmation, just 43 percent have been filled. . . . ”  He notes that Obama is trying to fix the financial markets but has no assistant secretary for financial markets.  He is fighting two wars but has no secretary of the Army, and is holding a summit on nuclear nonproliferation but has no assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation.

Dr. Terry Sullivan, executive director of the White House Transition Project, told Baker “If you are running G.M. without half your senior executives in place, are you worried? I’d say your stockholders would be going nuts.”

Baker also describes how there is more progress in putting officials in place than in other recent administrations and how the finger-pointing for the slow pace is “being freely passed around” between the executive and legislative branches.  The White House personnel office offers a higher count of appointees; other sources (such as the Washington Post’s Head Count website) offer lower counts, depending on what positions are included or excluded from the counting.

In a separate story, Chris Dorobek describes how the confirmation of Martha Johnson as administrator of the General Services Administration is being held up in the Senate.  He offers several reasons that are bipartisan in nature:  Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) is mad at GSA for discouraging government conferences in resort locations, like his home state city of Las Vegas, and Senator Kit Bond (R-MO) is blocking action because he wants a federal office building built in Kansas City. . . . meanwhile GSA has no top leader while the agency is facing an historic challenge to effectively manage  a 1,100 percent increase in its spending for the coming year under the Recovery Act.


Transparency in Contracting

August 21, 2009

Government Executive’s Robert Brodsky says the Obama Administration plans to raise the bar on making more government contract information available in his article, “Administration Says It Is Committed to Posting Contracts Online.”

The public already has access to some details about government contract awards via, which is a database of federal grants and contracts.  Even more is on the way via, which tracks dollars associated with the implementation of the Recovery Act.  But rarely are the actual contracts available.

Then-candidates Barack Obama and John McCain had co-sponsored legislation last year, The Strengthening Transparency and Accountability in Federal Spending Act of 2008 (S.3077) that would have required agencies to publish more details about their contracts.  It did not go anywhere, and Brodsky reports that it will likely not be actively considered this year, either.  However, President Obama could administratively require agencies to do so.  

Contractors are concerned about potentially exposing proprietary information and agencies are concerned about the overwhelming administrative burdens of redacting such information.  For example, the Defense Logistics Agency alone signs 8,000 contracts a day.  Brodsky notes that it took the General Services Administration two weeks to release a redacted copy of the contract when requested.

Transparency and government watchdog groups are strongly supporting the potential move. . . .. It’ll be interesting to see how far transparency can go, and how this will change both business and oversight!

Presidential Appointee Orientation

June 11, 2009

The Presidential Transition Act sets aside funds so the incoming Administration can conduct orientation training for incoming appointees.  According to Federal News Radio, the General Services Administration announced that they have chosen the Hay Group to be the deliverer of the training for the Obama Administration.  In 2000, and before, the Council for Excellence in Government had been the organizer of these orientation sessions, and with its demise earlier this year many thought it would be run by one of the other good government non-profits, so some saw the selection of a for-profit company as surprise.

Related, but not directly, the Office of Personnel Management is conducting an orientation session for new career and non-career senior executives from June 24-25.  Its website notes that this will be an opportunity to “learn about the President’s agenda, his vision and values, and to discuss the unique challenges you face with your new responsibilities.”  There is also a swearing-in ceremony scheduled, as well.

Transparency: Promising Practices

May 14, 2009

If you haven’t read the GSA Intergovernmental Solutions’ Spring 2009 newsletter, it’s worth downloading and reading.  It’s about 40 pages of articles.

This issue’s theme focuses on transparency and provides a useful snapshot of where government is at.  It provides President Obama’s directive, an overview of the effort, and potential directions in coming months, such as the proposed site that is a vision of the new federal CIO, Vivek Kundra.

The issue also provides some examples of what other governments are doing in the transparency arena, include Texas, Georgia, and New Zealand.

Cutting $100 Million

April 21, 2009

In his weekend radio address, President Obama said: “If we’re to going to rebuild our economy on a solid foundation, we need to change the way we do business in Washington. We need to restore the American people’s confidence in their government – that it is on their side, spending their money wisely, to meet their families’ needs.

“That starts with the painstaking work of examining every program, every entitlement, every dollar of government spending and asking ourselves: Is this program really essential? Are taxpayers getting their money’s worth? Can we accomplish our goals more efficiently or effectively some other way? “

. . . . Finally, in the coming weeks, I will be announcing the elimination of dozens of government programs shown to be wasteful or ineffective. In this effort, there will be no sacred cows, and no pet projects. All across America, families are making hard choices, and it’s time their government did the same.

He held his first cabinet meeting yesterday, using the occasion to highlight the need to cut questionable spending.  He  challenged his cabinet secretaries to cut $100 million in unnecessary administrative costs over the next 90 days. He gave some pretty interesting examples of the kinds of cuts they should look for, including reducing the number of conferences held, purchasing office supplies in bulk, etc. He said that this would be “separate and apart from the work that Peter Orszag and the rest of our team are doing to go line by line with the budget and identify programmatic cuts that need to be made.”

He recognized that $100 million was largely symbolic, given that the deficit in March 2009 alone was $192 billion, but it was a first step in restoring citizen confidence in government.

However, doing this smartly will matter.  Administrative costs are generally tight in most agencies and cutting them oftentimes means cutting investments in employee training and travel. This is not uncommon.  But cutting administrative expenses this year could be a real challenge: many agencies receiving Recovery Act funding (for example, the General Services Administration received a 1,130 percent increase in its budget) did not receive sufficient increases in administrative support to handle the influx of work . . . and now they’re being asked to cut their administrative costs.

Calm Before the Storm

January 19, 2009

The concert on the Mall yesterday was a good start to the Inaugural festivities.  But today’s a bit quiet.  There’s a lot going on behind the scenes, though, in preparation for tomorrow.

Here are a few stories that begin to tee things up:


No Place to Go.  A Washington Post story this morning,“All That Experience and No Place to Go,” paints a picture of how many long-time Bush aides are just now deluging Washington headhunters with pleas for jobs . . . and the well is dry. They’ll soon find their calls aren’t being returned, as well:  “The traditional avenues of employment for outgoing officials – corporations, nonprofit foundations or think tanks – are clogged because of hiring freezes.”


Escort Services.  Federal News Radio’s Max Cacas reports in “Archives ‘ escorts this President into history,’” that the National Archives Presidential Libraries staff, headed by Sharon Fawcett, is already working overtime “right up to 12 Noon on Inauguration Day, trying to make sure that the paper trail of the Bush Administration’s eight years in office is preserved for history.”   Her efforts started back in October, with more than 400 support personnel involved.


Choreographed Move.  Newsweek’s “Powering Up” Blogger Daniel Stone reports in “A Carefully Choreographed Move,” that the White House staff will have exacting five hours to transform the three-story, 132-room structure from one family’s house into a home for another.”  Similarly, the General Services Administration will have to clear out the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and the other associated offices with the Executive Office of the President to be ready for the new team.

New Transition Executive Order

October 9, 2008

President Bush signed a new executive order this morning outlining how his Administration will facilitate the upcoming transition.  The executive order creates a Presidential Transition Coordinating Council, chaired by the President’s chief of staff, Josh Bolton.  The Council is charged with collecting information about past transitions and provide assistance to the major party candidates and the president-elect.

The General Services Administration is charged with coordinating these materials as well as preparing a Transition Directory.  “Transition agreements” will be entered into between the White House, executive agencies and “the transition teams for the major party candidates and the President-elect. . . “

Similar executive orders have been issued in the past, but generally after Election Day.  Also, this new Order seems to suggest that contacts between the government and transition teams are being encouraged in advance of the Election.  I’ll update with links to media stories that might explain further.

Interestingly, a recent Huffington Post story by Sam Stein provides an update on the Obama and McCain transition efforts underway.  The story says that the two efforts are “worlds apart” in their approach.  Stein says “Sen. Barack Obama has organized an elaborate well-staffed network to prepare for his possible ascension to the White House, while Sen. John McCain has all but put off such work until after the election.”  He notes that McCain’s own staff express concern over his lack of planning.

Four New Websites on Transition

August 26, 2008

Several new websites have been put up in recent days that focus on the presidential transition:

National Academy for Public Administration’s Initiative on Presidential Management Capacity

The National Academy for Public Administration has launched a webpage with management insights for the next Administration and Congress.

The Academy is a congressionally-chartered institution comprised of distinguished current and former public leaders who are “dedicated to making government work better for those it serves.” Its standing panel on executive organization and management undertook an assessment of the management capacity of the president starting in 2006 in anticipation of the election and transition later this year. That assessment is complete and individual members of the panel have prepared a series of issue papers on management topics such as the president’s role in the government’s use of human capital, budgeting, and organizational structure of agencies. The papers were peer-reviewed by other members of the panel, many of whom had extensive careers in the federal government in the White House, OMB, and cabinet departments.

The first 10 papers are now posted on this webpage, with at least a half-dozen more to be posted in the near future. My recent blog series on government reform is based on an extract from one of the issue papers that I contributed to the series. Many of the others are written from what I call the “traditionalist’ perspective and they provide useful insights based on decades of experience by the authors.

GSA Presidential Transition Webpage

The General Services Administration (GSA) has launched a webpage detailing its statutory responsibilities associated with the presidential transition and the inauguration.

The webpage provides a useful overview and will likely be expanded over time. Ominously, it also includes the text of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act!

Sunlight Foundation: Transition Inventory

The Sunlight Foundation has created a useful resource that catalogs a variety of presidential transition projects ongoing around Washington. This catalog overlap with the list I’ve posted and updated periodically, but extends it a bit by adding organizations that have more of a policy orientation, such as the progressive November 5th Coalition and the conservative American Solutions.

FCW Transition Website

The on-line version of Federal Computer Week has launched a webpage to serve as a one-stop on events, conferences, and groups that are sponsoring initiatives related to the upcoming presidential transition effort.  It’s a wiki site, so it can be continually updated.  I’ll hotlink the Center’s blog homepage to the new FCW page and help update that webpage rather than continuing the inventory list of organizations and events in this blog. Should be easier for people to find stuff that way.

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!