Management Matters Management MattersManagement Matters
Practical advice for federal leaders on managing people, processes and projects.

Leading Questions

ARCHIVES

Nearly every presidential administration begins with a review of the current shape of government -- which agencies are doing what work, at what cost and to what end. The Obama administration is no exception, with the new president promising a top-to-bottom review of federal operations.

Each president has entered office with preferences and assumptions about government, beliefs about management and political prerogatives that help determine the course of their management reviews.

In his 1993 inaugural address, President Bill Clinton pledged a government of "bold, persistent experimentation," and subsequently put Vice President Al Gore in charge of the Reinventing Government initiative. That effort focused heavily on the management concept of employee empowerment. Clinton's team mined the ranks of government employees for ideas to improve the federal bureaucracy. This emphasis on the rank-and-file aligned with Clinton's political alliance with labor unions. His focus on empowerment helped pave the way for union acquiescence to his plans to downsize government -- a move also aided by Clinton's emphasis on the elimination of management and headquarters positions rather than front-line service workers' jobs.

Eight years later, President George W. Bush in his inaugural address emphasized the limits of government, telling Americans that "what you do is as important as anything government does." His President's Management Agenda reflected Bush's MBA background. It was run in a top-down style from the Office of Management and Budget, imposing goals on federal agencies for human resources, technology and performance management --as well as goals for opening government jobs to competition from private contractors. OMB regularly rated agencies' progress on meeting the targets the office set. Bush reversed some of Clinton's power arrangements with unions, in keeping with his administration's political differences with labor unions.

This week, President Barack Obama outlined his initial take on government management. "The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works," Obama said during his Jan. 20 inaugural speech. "Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end."

Both Clinton and Bush pursued their management agendas in parallel with the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act, which was Congress' effort to improve management in the agencies. The law requires agencies to set annual and five-year goals and to report on progress toward the achievement of those goals each year. In 1997, Clinton's deputy director for management at OMB, John Koskinen, said the Results Act asked three questions of federal managers:

  • What are we getting for the money we are spending?
  • What are federal programs and organizations trying to achieve?
  • How can the effectiveness of these activities be determined?
The Clinton and Bush administrations approached these questions with different assumptions, and they got different answers. The Obama administration has yet to reveal the assumptions it brings to the task of management review. But every leader has predilections, and those beliefs often are just as important in shaping the answers they get as are the questions that they ask.

Brian Friel covered management and human resources at Government Executive for six years and is now a National Journal staff correspondent.

 

Brian Friel is founder of One Nation Analytics, an independent research, analytics and consulting firm for the federal market.

FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.