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Avoiding a Government of Lawyers and Former Congressional Staffers

The two presumptive presidential candidates are now vetting vice presidential candidates. Putting together an entire administration is not too far off. Based on our experience over the last seven years in interviewing 65 top level political executives in the Obama Administration, we gained insights about the professional experiences of those we interviewed. We discussed how their prior positions prepared them for their current position. In particular, we looked for management experience that would prepare them to be effective political executives managing large government organizations.

Based on our interviews and observations over the years, we found that the political positions are often filled by people with little relevant managerial experience:

Campaign staff. A major challenge facing all campaigns is placing their loyal workers after the campaign ends. Some campaign staff members end up – appropriately for the most part – in the White House. Many campaign skills are indeed applicable to the “perpetual campaign” of the White House today with its ongoing outreach to the public. For many jobs, there is a problem, however, in transferring the skills of campaigning to the skills of governing. Managing in government requires managerial skills, which potential appointees may not have gained on the campaign trial. Thus...

Mad Max or Shining City on a Hill: Where Are We Headed?

What happens when an auspicious group of current and former Cabinet and federal agency heads, senior Office of Management and Budget and Government Accountability Office officials, academics and think tank leaders try to look into the future in order to tell the next presidential administration what it should (or should not) do to shape and influence that future?

Or rather, when they look at a set of alternative futures, each describing a dramatically different – but entirely plausible – state of the United States and the world. For example:

  • Imagine a future just a decade from now, one in which the U.S. has once again emerged as the shining city on the hill, the acknowledged and engaged leader of the first (and free) world and a generous benefactor of the rest – a magnet for the best and brightest everywhere, its preeminent prosperity fueled by as-yet-unimagined technology, an ‘open source’ society, and connected, responsive democratic institutions.
  • Or what about a darker future, one in which our taken-for-granted preeminence and power have declined. Where we were once at the top of the global heap, we’ve become like everybody else – the result of escalating internal economic, generational, racial, ethnic, and gender-based fissures? In...

More Executives Aren't Going to Solve Government’s Performance Problem

A bill now working through Congress, The Program Management Improvement and Accountability Act (S. 1550), would require agencies to designate staff responsible for bolstering and documenting performance of this vital bureaucratic function. It will no doubt benefit government but the idea that it is even necessary should be a reason to pause and consider how many laws have been passed over the past two decades or more to improve government performance. Yes, of course, government should adopt best practices for program management but is it really necessary to spell that out in statute or create additional bureaucracy to make it happen? 

Instead of adding new executive positions, a different strategy would start by asking why an agency finds itself with headline-grabbing performance problems in the first place. With minimal guidance, an internal team could conduct such an assessment and develop solutions. If legislation is truly needed, it’s a sad commentary.

Program management is not some arcane specialty. New projects are started every day in organizations. Consultants effectively start a new project with each client assignment. There is software to help with project planning. Beyond the initial planning, project or program management is no different than good, day to day...

Stop Pretending Your Colleagues Are Your Family

"It's a funny thing at this agency," she said. "You've got to be reaaaallllly careful who you talk to. Those people you see every day at work, they have friends you don't see. You catch my drift?"

"No." I felt completely stupid. Was she talking about the Mafia?

My friend shook her head. "Let me spell it out. These people have all worked here for a lot of years. And a lot of years is a very long time. Let's just say that many of them are close."

"I just cannot believe it," I said. "These people seem so..."

"So what? So boring?"

"Well, yeah, kinda." I looked over at another table, at a man attacking some orange chicken with his tie thrown over his suit. There was a folded-up newspaper on the table, which he appeared to be reading as he shoveled.

"Him? No."

"Remember these words forever," said my friend, grabbing my wrist a bit too firmly. "Because I am about to retire, and nobody else will tell it to you like it is. You never know who's sleeping with who in this town. So never burn your bridges, and never assume you...

Neurotic? Then Nothing is More Stressful Than Peace and Quiet, Research Shows

When you’re incredibly stressed and have a million things to sort out there can be nothing more annoying than zen yoga and deep breathing and people who tell you to chill.

A paper published earlier this year in the Journal of Consumer Psychology suggest that such irritation isn’t simply irrational, as researchers found that neurotic people find anxiety-inducing environments more restorative than traditionally calm ones.

While it may seem strange that anyone could find crowded sidewalks more relaxing than the forest, the research say it makes sense that we would find it easier to be in environments that match our personality.

“Environments are restorative when individuals interacting with them require less directed attention resources,” they write. “It is possible that environmental compatibility, or the extent to which salient cues in the environment are compatible with an individual’s motivational orientation, affects the amount of attentional resources necessary to interact within an environment.”

For example, someone neurotic like Woody Allen could find a forest “very off-putting rather than rejuvenating,” co-author and Providence College professor Kevin Newman said in a statement.

Though the authors didn’t look at anyone with a clinical neurotic disorder, participants took a neurotic personally survey...