Posts Tagged ‘National Journal’

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!


Delivering on Obama Promises

February 3, 2009

Yesterday I saw the first news article decrying how President Obama had broken his first campaign promise: “Promise No. 234: Allow five days of public comment before signing bills.”  The President signed his first bill, the Ledbetter Act, without first posting it for a five-day comment period.


It turns out the St. Petersburg Times has developed an inventory of 510 campaign promises and is tracking their progress via their PoltiFact “Obameter.”  Not surprisingly, it lists 483 of them as having “no action.”  Maybe a little unfair after two weeks in office, but that’s the news media!


The striking thing, to me, though is that someone has put together such a complete list.  In the Clinton Administration, that list was in the head of George Stephanopoulos.  Now it’s a website!  The National Journal has created such a list as well, called “The Promise Audit,” but their list is half the size of the St. Petersburg Times list (234 promises).


The promise of full transparency led the Obama transition, followed by the White House, to post its own list of commitments.  Called “The Agenda,” it covers 24 topic areas.  It doesn’t offer a progress-tracking function, though.


The potential concern, though, is that none of the three lists easily match.  For example, the White House “civil rights” agenda lists 15 specific commitments, the St. Petersburg site lists 21, and the National Journal lists 11.  Moreover, the three sites don’t use the same categories.  For example, the National Journal has a category titled “Administration,” and the St. Petersburg has a “Government Efficiency” category, but the Obama agenda doesn’t have a parallel category.


But really, how can a leader be effective with so many initiatives pending? I’ve been reading a fascinating book, “Instruction to Deliver,” by Michael Barber.  Barber was UK Prime Minister Tony Blair’s version of Obama’s chief performance officer.  He was responsible, in Blair’s second term, for ensuring key improvements were made in the delivery of public services that were part of Blair’s campaign.  The key, he said, was to agree on a small handful of specific, measurable priorities and focus on them.  They initially focused on 14 priorities – important things like reducing mortality from heart disease (not things like 5-day waiting period before signing legislation).  Barber outlines how they developed a strong transparency approach using “league tables” and assessments on the likelihood that programs would deliver on their promises.


The bottom line seems to be to focus on the small, critical few priorities; but first, someone in the White House may want to get a handle on how many campaign commitments were actually made in the first place (and which are still relevant) and take ownership of them during this transition period before someone else defines the agenda and what success should look like!


Participatory Democracy

December 31, 2008

There has been much speculation in the media about President Obama using direct participatory democracy an important element of how he and his agency leaders govern.


Three recent articles, one in the New York Times one in the Washington Post, and one by the National Journal, outline some of the steps already taken and offer some insights on possible next steps.


The first, by New York Times’ Helene Cooper, “The Direct Approach,” where she notes that “President-elect Barack Obama says that he wants to make his administration more responsive to the American people. To that end, his aides are introducing a host of YouTube and other efforts aimed at bypassing the media and communicating directly with voters.”  The article notes that the Bush Administration piloted some “by-pass the press” approaches, such as blogs in the State Department, and that the Obama transition is testing ways to allow direct citizen questions.


The second, by Washington Post’s Jose Antonio Vargas, “e-Hail to the Chief,” focuses on the use of the web in governing (only the Washington Post can publish an article on governing and place it in its “Style” section of the paper!).  In an interview with an active on-line Obama supporter, Vargas was told:  “Well, people are still fired up and ready to go. . . . What’s next?”  With this kind of expectation, Vargas notes there might be a rough transition from the campaign’s, to the transition’s, to  online social networking is designed to foster a community. For that approach to be effective, can’t just push information out — it has to pull content in, too. And once it does so, the administration will have to decide whether, when and how to incorporate those voices into its decision-making process.”


There are experiments by the transition’s, encouraging comments on healthcare reform (with over 3,500 received), encouraging the submission of questions (with over 20,000 participants), and the outreach by the campaign’s encouraging its 13 million members to participate in self-organized house meetings and report back – with more than 4,200 meetings held in 2,000 communities.


The third, by National Journal’s David Herbert, “Obama Voters Fired Up, Ready to Go (Online),” summarizes a new report out by the Pew Internet and American Life Project on post-election voter engagement.  In it, he says: “The report also found that not only are Democrats more politically active online than Republicans, but they expect more outreach from their candidates. Among those who use social networking sites, 37 percent of Obama voters expect to be contacted through those sites by the president-elect. . . “


There have been similar articles in other forums, such as TechPresident, that have also offered their insights.  More will follow, I’m sure, in coming weeks. The real test will be:  what happens after January 20th when the innovators have to begin following federal government rules?

Clear the Decks

December 8, 2008

The National Journal reports  that White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten has instructed all Bush political appointees that do not have term appointments to submit their resignations effective Inauguration Day, January 20, 2009.  Here’s a copy of his memo, dated December 1st.  This is consistent with what occurred at the end of the Clinton Administration in 2001.

The Transition MOU

November 14, 2008

President Bush signed an executive order in October creating a Presidential Transition Coordinating Council.  In that order, it stipulates that one of the first orders of business after the election is to sign a memorandum of understanding between the outgoing Bush Administration and the incoming President-Elect’s transition team.


That memo was signed earlier this week and was sent out to agencies as guidance on Wednesday.  National Journal’s Alexis Simendinger tracked down a copy, so here’s a link!


The memo paves the way for the “parachute teams” that are to begin arriving in agencies on Monday.  It lays out the rules of engagement:


The President-Elect’s Transition Team (PETT) will provide lists of approved transition team members in writing to the White House Chief of Staff, Josh Bolten.  The Chief of Staff will provide this list to the appropriate departments and agencies.  “The Administration will conduct its transition activities with the PETT through the contacts authorized by the Chief of Staff and the Chair of the PETT.”


Each agency will “use best efforts to locate and set aside available space” and provide “appropriate support to and equipment for use by the PETT.”  Separate media reports say that space for 50 transition team members has been set aside in the Pentagon.


The memo goes into the rules for sharing classified or confidential information, especially given that transition team members are not government employees.    The memo also defines how disagreements over access are to be resolved.

New Transition Websites and Blogs

November 13, 2008

Several new websites and blogs on the transition have popped up in the past few days.  Here are some of the more dynamic ones:


Newsweek launched its transition-tracking blog, “Powering Up: The Road to the Inauguration.”  It follows the ins and outs of the transition itself, including potential nominees as well as useful context on issues different agencies are facing.


The National Journal and Government Executive magazines have teamed up on a blog, “Lost in Transition,” that has some terrific insights into both issues and personalities.


American University’s Department of Communication has created an interesting site on the transition, “Transition Tracker,” with lots of graphics and good links to update stories on progress in each agency.


The Washington Post created a webpage, “44:  A Transition to Power” that tracks the transition real-time.


SourceWatch Encyclopedia has created a useful wiki of media sources focused on the transition, colorfully named “Presidential Transition Resources.”


If you know of other really useful links, let me know and I’ll post!

Tracking the Transition

November 5, 2008

The election is over and the transition moves to its next phase – the 77 days before the Inauguration.  A key pastime for everyone in government will be trying to figure out what’s going on, both in terms of people on the move as well as policies in play.


At least two media outlets have committed to using web-based approaches to tracking what’s going on.  They are each worth bookmarking:


Government Executive/National Journal:  They have launched a new blog: “Lost in Transition,” which includes thoughtful interviews with government executives, think tanks, and academics.


1105 Government Information Group: They are experimenting with a wiki-based approach to covering the transition:  Gov Transition 2009.  If you register, you can also add resources directly.  The wiki includes articles, opportunities for dialogues on topics of your choosing, an inventory of events, think tanks, and reports with recommendations to the new Administration.


I also understand that CNN plans to track the next transition phase – the first 100 days after the Inauguration – with a daily series.


If you know of other media dedicating ongoing coverage, let me know and I’ll expand this list.


As might be expected, there are a flood of great transition-related articles in the media this morning.  Here are links to a few:


A Washington Post article by Shailagh Murray, “Early Transition Decisions to Shape Obama Presidency,” begins to name names of potential top-level appointees, including John Podesta as transition director and Rahm Emanuel as potential White House Chief of Staff.  “A game plan for moving forward will become clear by Friday, Obama sources said, and Cabinet announcements may start to trickle out next week.”


A Washington Post “Analysis” by Paul Light says Obama must use the infrastructure of his transition team to past three tests:  (1) getting his appointees in place, (2) deciding how to decide, and (3) defining a targeted set of priorities.