Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Breul’

Role of Good Government Groups

February 2, 2009

What has been the role of good government groups in the presidential transition?  Government Executive’s Alyssa Rosenberg explores this in a feature article, “Gathering Good.” 


She notes that even though many nonprofit groups have varied agendas, “the community of good government groups is experiencing a period of unprecedented cooperation.”  She pointed not only to this blog as an example, but also to the “Dance Card” of more than 30 different organizations contributing insights and resources to making the transition a success.


IBM Center executive director, Jonathan Breul, who also coordinates the Government Performance Coalition, said “When the dust clears . . .  new administrations need people with experience and who are not tainted by involvement with the previous administration to offer them management advice.”


The Coalition is comprised of more than a dozen organizations committed to helping government improve performance.  It recommends the incoming Obama Administration adopt several overarching principles to guide its efforts, and continues to provide insights and resources.


Transition: IBM Center Special Magazine Issue

December 22, 2008

bog_fall08pubs1Last week I visited with a friend at lunch and had a strange experience!  I’d brought a copy of the IBM Center’s latest magazine to share and left on the table during lunch.  A complete stranger came up and said “Oh, can I get a copy of that magazine?  I really need it!” Then someone a table over said, “Can I get a copy too!?”  This issue has a special section on the transition, which was what was attracting interest.

Well, in case you too are interested, here are the hotlinks to those articles:

Helping the Next Administration Succeed in Washington, by Jonathan Breul.  Management matters, says Breul:  “The transition from campaign to governing requires that presidential policies be transformed from rhetoric into an actionable agenda and then into concrete results. Neither good policies nor sound investments are likely to work, let along succeed, if undermined by poor implementation.”  He goes on to observe that this is difficult both because of the size of the federal government as well as the fact that so much of what goes on must be delegated to others.  He says that having good oversight and controls in place is important, but that a leadership interest in management, and not just policy, is important.

Eight Essential Tools for Achieving Your Goals:  Insights for the New Administration, by Mark Abramson, Breul, John Kamensky, and Martin Wagner.  This essay summarizes the book they co-authored, “The Operator’s Manual for the New Administration.”  They outline the eight tools leaders have at their disposal in every government agency to use to achieve their goals:  leadership, performance, people, money, contracting, technology, innovation, and collaboration.  The book has chapters on each. 

Hubris or Wise Policy?  Early Planning for a Presidential Transition, by Martha Joynt Kumar.  Based on years of study, professor Kumar says presidential candidates need to be prepared to select and vet some 100 top administration officials, staff up their White House, be ready in the first week to issue a dozen executive orders reflecting their social priorities and withdraw ones issued by their predecessors, have ready a speech to Congress on a major policy issue, and decide their budget priorities. Early planning makes all of the difference to the quality of the start a president has once he takes office.  Based on the progress of the Obama transition, it looks like they’ve taken her advice!

What Do (and What Should) Federal Officials Do During a Presidential Transition?, by Bruce McConnell.  This article focuses on the actions of federal officials in four separate phases of the transition: pre-election, post-election, post-inauguration, and post-arrival (of incoming political officials). It differentiates between three types of officials: political officials connected with the outgoing administration, incoming political officials, and senior career civil servants. Finally, it provides some tips for making the transition a success for all concerned.

An Apollo Project for Climate Change/Energy?  History’s Lessons for Future Success, by Henry Lambright. If President Obama wants to launch a massive effort to respond to the nation’s climate change/energy challenges, he can hearken back to large-scale government efforts in the past such as the Manhattan Project or the Apollo Project.  Dr. Lambright’s study of these past efforts offers five success factors for such large-scale efforts:  (1) a consensus-building catalyst for action, (2) a clear and urgent goal, (3) a powerful implementing agency, (4) sustained political will, and (5) exceptional administrative leadership. 

Hope you enjoy your holiday reading!

Performance Advice for Obama Administration

December 5, 2008

The Government Performance Coalition – a group of organizations committed to the improvement of government performance – offers our collective judgment on the key actions the Administration and Members of Congress can take together to make government work more effectively for the American public. 


Coalition coordinator, Jonathan Breul, says: “Performance must be paramount if governing for excellence is to be attained and replicated.  Good policies and sound investments will fall short of the mark if anything less than exceptional performance is the predominate mode of operation.”


So, what should the new Administration and Congress do to improve government performance?  Following are the Coalition’s recommended priorities:


1.  Lead by setting standards and demanding accountability with a performance-based framework that supports both the Executive and Legislative Branches.


·         Link agency budgets with annual performance plans and outcome measures that focus on visible, critical priorities (some of which should be cross-cutting).

·         Apply an objective system to evaluate program and individual success. 

·         Issue short reports that give citizens a better understanding of their government and inform a more meaningful debate about fiscal priorities, performance results and future challenges.


2.  Strengthen organizational capacity to serve and defend the American public.


·         Strategically recruit, develop, and retain a highly engaged and productive federal workforce comprised of a proper blend of experienced careerists and new talent.

·         Assess the use of contractors and determine the correct balance of outsourced versus government-performed work within each agency.

·         Encourage interagency and intergovernmental assignments to promote improved learning, communication, collaboration, and best practices application.


3.  Mandate the use of innovation and technology to revolutionize government business models in order to achieve citizen satisfaction.


·         Expand the use of e-government to facilitate improved 24/7 access to departments and agencies.

·         Empower agency leadership to engender a collaborative, transparent, and accountable learning culture.  

·         Promote the strategic use of technology to re-engineer work processes and eliminate inefficiencies with a goal of improved service delivery and trust in government.


The “Priorities” are the result of a year-long effort by representatives from the Coalition organizations to develop a dialogue on performance, budget, and management issues.  Sub-committees of subject matter experts from Coalition organizations hosted forums, conducted field studies, and hosted a “Transitions in Governance” website and blog management that issues that need new attention, and refine past efforts and highlight related governance policies that affect performance.

Members of the Coalition include, among others, American Society for Public Administration , Association of Government Accountants, Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group, CNA Corporation, Coalition for Effective Change, Council for Excellence in Government, George Washington University Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration, Grant Thornton, IBM Center for The Business of Government , International Brotherhood of Teamsters, American University Institute for the Study of Policy Implementation, University of Pennsylvania Fox Leadership Center, Management Concepts, Mercatus Center at George Mason University, National Academy of Public Administration, Partnership for Public Service, Performance Institute and Senior Executives Association.


The Coalition’s perspective is non-political and non-partisan.  Representatives from organizations in the Coalition provided input into the priorities, although the views presented may not represent the entire member of each organization. 



8 Steps to Effective Government

December 2, 2008
Jonathan Breul, IBM Center Executive Director

Jonathan Breul, IBM Center Executive Director

Candidate Obama promised to designate a Chief Performance Officer, who would report to the president and, along with a SWAT team of highly trained government professionals, would lead a line-by-line review of the budget, lead government-wide and agency-by-agency performance target setting and tracking, and conduct turnarounds of failing programs. What will President Obama do to carry out these promises? IBM Center executive director Jonathan Breul, in an article for US News and World Report, offers eight steps: • Start early. Management and performance initiatives should be in place in the first year of the first term. Implementation takes time.

• Establish an overarching set of principles and values. A clear agenda, clearly communicated, is key to effective action.

• Secure and maintain top-level support throughout the White House and the Office of Management and Budget.

• Appoint leaders who “get it.” Agency leaders need to be personally committed to action on change initiatives.

• Link actions to improvements in mission and operations. Changes should be something the public notices and cares about.

• Link efforts to the budget. This is the only way to get serious attention in government.

• Effectively coordinate and collaborate with the agencies.

• Obtain support from Congress. Without support, Congress may send conflicting signals or deny funding.

Just for Fun

November 12, 2008

IBM Center Executive Director Jonathan Breul and I have been videoed for several web broadcasts.  Jonathan did a serious one, examining four key questions surrounding a transition.  He was interviewed by Mark Satter for Congresssional Quarterly’s website.


On the other hand, I was interviewed on PBS’s New Hour Extra, a production for high school civics classes.  While interviewer Stacey Delikat gamely seemed to fein interest, I can see I’ll contribute to a Sominex moment for high school seniors across America!


I was also interviewed a couple weeks ago on the upcoming transition by the Norwegian public television network before the election as part of their broader coverage of the American election process.  If you watch this broadcast, however, you’ll have to skip past the Norwegian subtitles!!

Beyond Tinkering

June 9, 2008

Dr. Paul LightHere’s some Springsteen music to listen to as you read this blog entry . . .


New York University Professor Paul Light is never one for being shy or subtle about his thoughts on the need for – and ways to – reform government.  In his latest book, “A Government Ill-Executed:  The Decline of the Federal Service and How to Reverse It,” he says it is “past the time for tinkering” and he’s now out and about talking about it.  This morning I heard him talk at the National Academy for Public Administration about how “breakdowns are coming at a greater velocity,” citing Katrina, shuttles, and contracting mis-steps.  He claims the administrative infrastructure is steadily weakening and points to a number of symptoms, such as delays in the political appointment process, increased layers of management, and the retirement (and recruitment) wave that is currently altering the government workforce.


He offers some specific recommendations, such as reducing the number and layers of managers by half and shifting those positions to the front lines; and cutting the number of political appointees in half and abolishing any political position not filled within six months.  In fact, he called on both presidential candidates to team up and pass legislation in the next six weeks to fix the broken presidential appointment-Senate confirmation process, noting that both candidates have an equal stake in being able to effectively run the government if they were to win.  He notes: “This is a great year to do these kinds of reforms.”  After all, how many prospective appointees will want to respond to a 250-question set of forms as a starting lesson for how government works. . . . and have to use a typewriter for some of those forms??


But these recommendations are tinkering.  He also recommends sorting out programs to eliminate duplication and overlap, and deciding what the government should keep doing and what it should stop doing.  To do this, he recommends creating a commission that would have the power to send reform recommendations to Congress for an up-or-down vote.


Commission recommendations have been made in the past.  In fact, Dr. Light had a hand in an attempt to establish a government reform commission in 1988 when he worked on the staff of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.  A provision was tacked on to the end of the bill creating the Department of Veterans Affairs to create a reform commission.  The provision was intended to be a tool for the new president, but president-elect George H.W. Bush expressed no interest in such as commission so the provision did not take effect.


There have been subsequent efforts to create a reform commission.  Dr. Hannah Sistare wrote a report for the IBM Center several years ago describing alternative approaches.  Congressman Edward Royce currently has a bill pending before the House, where there has been no action.  The Administration proposed a Sunset Commission to examine the government agency-by-agency; again, no action.


The past two presidents have declined to pursue a comprehensive commission approach. Institutionally, commissions can reduce their influence and put their agendas in a suspended state of animation while awaiting results.  However, each took their own incremental approaches to government reform.  President Bill Clinton created the National Performance Review and President George W. Bush created the President’s Management Agenda.  My colleague Jonathan Breul and I co-authored an article comparing those two efforts in the Spring 2008 issue of the IBM Center’s magazine.  We found that while both were incremental in approach, they have had long-term impacts.


Like Dr. Light, the Government Accountability Office recommends a fundamental re-examination of the base of federal programs and identified twelve specific areas for review.  While both presidential candidates are calling for reform, neither has endorsed the creation of a commission as a way to pursue comprehensive reform.  The presidential campaign will likely define the level of urgency facing the next president, and whether we need comprehensive reforms or incremental reforms.  Which do you think it will be?