Posts Tagged ‘State Department’

Status of Political Appointments: June 2009

June 17, 2009

People have been asking me why I’m still doing a transition blog:  “Isn’t the transition over?”  Well, no.

It’s five months into the Obama Administration and according to the Washington Post’s Head Count, only 23 percent (146) of the top 492 jobs have been filled.  There’s yet to be an orientation of new incoming appointees, either.  Just last week GSA identified the Hay Group to organize and run the orientation.  This may not have been on the fast track in part because there wasn’t a critical mass of appointees in place to orient!  And the President’s Management Council – largely comprised of departmental deputy secretaries – hasn’t convened yet (to my knowledge) because there isn’t a quorum of deputy secretaries.

When visitors from foreign government come through our office asking about the transition progress of the new Obama Administration, I try to explain this to them.  They seem baffled.  How can the U.S. Government be fighting two wars, address a major economic crisis, pursue healthcare reform, combat climate change, and have less than a quarter of its top government executives in place?

I explain how Don Gips, the head of the president’s selection and appointment process, and his deputy, David Jacobson, have now both been selected for appointments as ambassadors.  These critical vacancies have the potential to slow the selection process.

I also explain how top level appointees need to be confirmed by the Senate.  I also share with them how this process isn’t always based on assessing the qualifications of the appointees, either.  For example, the hardcopy version of this week’s Federal Times notes that Senate floor votes on at least 25 nominees are being held up by some Republicans because they are miffed that the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Sonya Sotomayor is scheduled for mid-July, which is sooner than they would like.  This hold up includes positions such as the chief lawyer for the State Department, an undersecretary for Homeland Security, and I guess Jeff Zients as well, whose nomination was voted out of committee a few days ago.

I get a blank look from these foreign visitors.  I just shrug.  I can’t explain it either!  But they better understand why more power and authority is being centralized in the White House, where most appointees do not need to be confirmed.  There, positions have been filled quickly and they are able to move forward on the president’s agenda.


Progress on Obama Transparency Efforts

March 3, 2009

President Obama signed a directive in his first full day in office committing his Administration to “creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.” He directed the Chief Technology Officer to, within 120 days, create recommendations for an Open Government Directive.


Well, 120 days is May 21st and there’s no Chief Technology Officer. So Beth Noveck, in the Office of Science and Technology Policy, is filling in the breech. When she was a law professor before joining the Obama Administration, she participated in a number of cutting edge approaches to opening up government, so she’s got a passion for this already. I’m sure she’s working with Vivek Kundra, the OMB e-government administrator who is equally passionate about this topic.


To date, there’s been a note to agency officials who already monitor this topic to provide their ideas on greater transparency. This is being done via a membership-restricted government website that was originally created for agency budget officers to communicate with each other. They have until March 6th to provide their ideas.

LATER ADDITION:  Here’s the actual note.

After March 6th, a government website will be created for citizens and others to provide their ideas for how government should be more transparent, participative, and collaborative. But that hasn’t stopped others from forging ahead in advance!


The Administration has already undertaken several transparency initiatives, as noted by blogger Chris Dorobek. The most prominent are associated with the Recovery Act, with the creation of, as well as agency-level web links tracking Recovery Act monies and projects (see, for example, the HHS Recovery Act webpage).


Also, a number of agency heads are writing their own blogs, including the Director of OMB, Peter Orszag. Other high-visibility bloggers include the White House, the State Department, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.


Here are some ideas already on the table to expand the Obama efforts:

  • The Strengthening Our Nation’s Democracy Coalition issued a white paper to the Obama Transition team back in November, recommending the creation of a White House Office of Citizen Engagement. While that hasn’t happened, the White House did designate Kate Stanton as the director of citizen participation.
  • There was a “Transparency Camp” held this past weekend among advocates of greater transparency. One of the participants, David Stephenson, offered a presentation on “Democratizing Data” where the federal role would be to provide raw data feeds of as much data as possible, allowing citizens to create their own mashups of information. This approach was taken by Vivek Kundra when he was the chief technology officer for the District of Columbia (see DC Data Catalog). Interestingly, Stephenson points to experiences in other countries where increased data sharing lowered government administrative costs.

  • There is a wish list of different transparency ideas published by the Sunlight Foundation, which is a strong advocate of transparency. Some of these are statutory, but some are simple, such as having the president post any signing statements on the White House website 72 hours before he signs a bill.

Still, much of this won’t be easy. There was a great article by Jose Antonio Vargas yesterday in the Washington Post, “Web-Savvy Obama Team Hits Unexpected Bumps,” describing the practical barriers to greater transparency because of existing government laws and policies.