Posts Tagged ‘Joe Biden’

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 Recovery.gov 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!

Advertisements

Obama Agency Visits

March 19, 2009

During campaign his campaign, President Obama said he wanted to “make government cool again.”  A good place is to start at home.  And he seems to be following some of his predecessors by visiting different federal agencies in his first weeks in office.  Both the President and his wife have been making visits to agencies, holding listening sessions and town halls. . . . and in the process they are stirring up a good bit of excitement.

 

His first visit was to the Defense Department in late January, where he met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to get briefed on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  This visit was followed by a visit to Energy, where he told employees that it was time to get serious about renewable energy, to the Department of the Interior, where he helped celebrate the Departments’ 160th anniversary, and to the Department of Transportation, where he and Vice President Biden touted the Administration’s transportation investments.

 

His wife Michelle Obama has been on “listening tours” of a number of agencies as well, visiting EPA, and the Departments of Agriculture, Education, and Housing and Urban Development.

 

The President’s most recent visit was to the Department of Veterans Affairs, just across Lafayette Park from the White House, for their 20th anniversary celebration.

Fast Action on Stimulus Implementation

March 12, 2009

recovery1The Obama Administration recognizes the importance of the Recovery Act and doing a credible job in its implementation.  The initial emphasis was on accountability to ensure the monies were not ill-spent. 

President Obama emphasized this in his meetings with both governors and mayors. In speaking to state governors on February 23, President Obama said:

 

“. . . I’m announcing today that I’m asking my Vice President, Joe Biden, to oversee our administration’s implementation efforts.  Beginning this week, Joe will meet regularly with key members of my Cabinet to make sure our efforts are not just swift, but also efficient and effective.  Joe is also going to work closely with you, our nation’s governors, as well as our mayors and everyone else involved in this effort, to keep things on track.  And the fact that I’m asking my Vice President to personally lead this effort shows how important it is for our country and our future to get this right, and I thank him for his willingness to take on this critical task. In the coming weeks, we’re also going to appoint some of the nation’s best managers and public officials to work with the Vice President on this effort.”

 

He’s been known to call Vice President Biden the “sheriff,” in overseeing the Recovery Act.  There’s been a lot of emphasis on accountability, with the creation of www.recovery.gov and the creation of the Recovery Act Transparency Board, headed by Earl Devaney.

 

But it’s increasingly clear that accountability can’t be the primary emphasis.  Obama needs a “trail boss,” not a sheriff!  The Washington Post’s Alec MacGillis says this will be a chance for public servants to show government can work.

 

The lack of some key appointees has been part of the challenge.  The “normal” government would have seen the deputy director for management at OMB and the deputy secretaries taking the lead in implementing an initiative of this scale.  But these positions are still being filled.  So another approach is being used.

 

Today, Vice President Biden hosted a conference of state budet officials to describe progress so far on the Recovery Act’s implementation.  He said the President will announce new implementation rules tomorrow.

 

Here are some of the key pieces of the evolving governance structure that have been developed so far:

 

Vice President’s Office.  Vice President Biden convened his first meeting on February 24th with an emphasis on transparency and accountability.  But the meeting quickly shifted to implementation, with a high concern over whether the contracting workforce can handle the anticipated increase in their workload (for example, the General Services Administration’s budget is increasing by 1,130 percent, without much of an increase in contract staffing).

 

Office of Management and Budget.  OMB has taken an early lead by publishing initial guidance, mainly for the reporting requirements in the Act.  Government Executive published a helpful “Economic Stimulus Checklist” to keep the various reporting requirements in line.  Agencies’ first weekly reports on the Recovery Act were due March 3rd.

 

OMB is also flagging potential problems, such as yesterday’s announcement that the governmentwide portal for grants applications, www.grants.gov, could be overwhelmed if steps are not taken to ensure it has the capacity to process the number of expected grants applications.  Agencies have until March 13th to assess their grants management systems.

 

Office of Personnel Management.  OPM knows that getting the right people in place is going to be a key element of success. It has been pressed to delegate certain authorities to agencies, and in response convened a governmentwide meeting to work out the details.

 

Agency Recovery Act Coordinators.  The White House asked agencies to designate a point of contact for their agencies.  Lacking political appointees in many agencies, this started slow, but agencies are now making progress. For example, Interior Secretary Salazar named his choice recently.  Agency finance officers are seeing major challenges, as well, according to Government Executive’s Katherine Peters, who says agency chief financial officers are facing staff shortages already, and have a growing workload from other programs, as well.

 

State Recovery Act Coordinators.  States are designating Recovery Act coordinators as well, to serve not only as a counterpart to their federal coordinators but also to work across their own state governments.  States are creating their own Recovery Act websites as well that are being linked to the federal site.  These sites are in response to the reporting requirements in the Recovery Act.

 

External Efforts to Monitor Progress. External groups are also evolving to monitor the implementation of the Recovery Act.  For example, StimulusWatch is sponsored by the Sunlight Foundation.