Editor's Notebook


Timothy B. Clark

Should the last column of the century reflect on times gone by or on things to come? Perhaps a little of each. I have been blessed during a working life that began in the 1960s with the opportunity to make a living watching government in the nation's capital. Much has changed, and not for the better, over the past four decades, but my interest has never flagged. I have worked for organizations-National Journal and Government Executive-that have resisted the celebrity- and scandal-obsession of others in the media, sticking to serious analysis of politics and government. Since 1987, when National Journal took over Government Executive, it has been my privilege to attempt something unique in journalism-systematic reporting on the business affairs of the public-sector agencies that are among the largest institutions in our nation. Business journalism is a hot field, but only Government Executive attempts to bring a business and management approach to the coverage of the federal government.

In 1989, we published a cover story titled "Hollow Government," which set the stage for much of what we have done since. This article observed that Congress was promising more than the executive branch could deliver, and detailed the shortfalls agencies were suffering in money, staff and equipment to meet their assignments. Agencies' continuing struggles to cope with tight budgets, job cuts and the "era of big government is over" shibboleth has been at the heart of our coverage ever since. We have also chronicled government's successes, including the remarkable logistics of Operation Desert Shield (which won us one of two Gerald Ford prizes for distinguished defense journalism).

Sometimes we have kicked up controversy, as you can readily see both in Tom Shoop's Media column and in our Letters section this month. The use of the word "girl" in our September cover headline, "Goodbye Government Girl," revived a "30-year-old offensive practice," wrote one reader. "As the supposed 'Government's Business Magazine,' you should be setting the standard, not violating it on a national level on your cover." Perhaps, I acknowledged, we'd needlessly given offense with our nostalgic cover image and headline.

This article about the demise of the federal secretary was an example of Government Executive's ongoing effort to report on the realities of government service, painting a larger picture than any of our readers can see in their own corners of the bureaucracy. This month's cover, on the latest downsizing drive, is another example. These aren't cheerful stories. At the same time, we make every effort to find examples of progress, as with last month's cover story on Forest Service entrepreneurs and this month's celebration of leading technology applications.

In the coming months, three experts in the ways of government will be joining our team of contributors:

  • Robert Tobias, who is teaching policy implementation at American University after years of service as president of the National Treasury Employees Union (To read his first column, click here).
  • Steven Kelman, the Harvard professor who sparked federal acquisition reform as President Clinton's director of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy.
  • David Osborne, whose books on reinventing government have influenced public officials from city hall to Pennsylvania Avenue.

    These contributors, and our own talented staff of journalists, will remain on the lookout for ways our readers can continue to improve their service to the public.

    Tim sig2 5/3/96
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