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A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

Take It From a Marine: Leaders Ask For Help

The call came on a Saturday morning. I had just returned from a 5-mile run along the seawall. I was happy that I was finally getting over the terrible jet lag one gets flying from the West Coast to Okinawa, Japan.

I had arrived on Okinawa after completing what amounted to a year-long onboarding with the United States Marine Corps. I was a freshly minted second lieutenant with a business degree, gold bars on my collars, and zero real-world military experience. I arrived at the unit to which I was assigned just in time to see the last group of people and equipment fly off in massive cargo planes to South Korea to train.

Take care of those you lead.

I had met the unit commander, a soon-to-retire lieutenant colonel who, when I had my in-call with him, spent the time encouraging me to enjoy every minute of my time as a lieutenant; to take care of my Marines; and to listen and learn from the enlisted Marines I would serve with. He then spoke about how excited he and his wife where about returning to their home state of Wisconsin. That evening, the officers gathered for the traditional get-together...

Your Social Media Habits Could Soon Affect Your Security Clearance

A memo released by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper paves the way for agencies to conduct social media checks in the course of doing security clearance background investigations.

Any information searched must be related to the 13 adjudicative criteria, and must be publicly available. A background investigator will not be asking for your login credentials, but you should expect your name to be searched on popular search engines and social media sites once the policy is implemented.

“The intent of the policy was to give top cover to agencies who want to start using social media,” said Charles Sowell, senior vice president of national security and cyber solutions with Salient CRGT. He emphasized that the policy does not mean applicants should expect social media checks to become a universal part of the background investigation process. He also noted that use of social media would be implemented on an agency-by-agency basis.

Sowell said that unlike some employers, the government was not going to be asking security clearance applicants for their user names and passwords—an important distinction for privacy advocates. “We’re not going to be trying to break into password protected social media settings, and we’re not going...

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...