The Governance Challenge

Timothy B. Clark

As a first order of business, we have undertaken to analyze the leadership styles and approaches to governing the two major party candidates would bring to the White House, starting this month with George W. Bush. What Al Gore's record as Vice President and his campaign this year portend for government and the civil service will be the subject of another article next month. In the fall, we'll profile trends in public opinion about government, as they will shape the next government's opportunities for promoting new policy directions. And we will write about how the new governing team comes together, what it takes to be an effective political appointee, and steps the senior civil service should consider to prepare for a fresh set of faces at the top of virtually every federal agency.

As Dick Kirschten reports this month, Bush is not the viscerally anti-government candidate that might have emerged from the GOP. He has reached out across party lines and to the senior civil service in Texas to build his administration there. His proposal to cut 40,000 management jobs during his first term seems almost benign by comparison to what's happened on President Clinton's watch and what might have been proposed from the conservative end of the political spectrum. It would not be surprising if the Texas governor were cut from the same cloth as his father, who was known to go out of his way to recognize contributions of the bureaucracy (and after whom the CIA's Langley, Va., headquarters complex is named).

Whether Democrat or Republican, the next President will face the emerging need to redefine the federal government's role in the nation's affairs, both at home and abroad. Many scholars now say that Washington is "too small for the big problems of life, and too big for the small problems of life," as Daniel Bell wrote in a prescient analysis back in 1988. International problems demand multilateral solutions, as we are painfully learning in commerce and in war. In the World Trade Organization and peacekeeping missions in Europe and Africa, for example, American sovereignty has eroded. Governments everywhere have lost power to global communications and economic integration, and U.S. policy and diplomatic capabilities have not kept pace. In domestic policy, Washington simply doesn't have the resources or the wisdom required to make a real difference in many problems rooted in local communities and regions-from welfare to education to highway congestion.

As a result, the federal government risks finding itself in a "squeeze for relevance," as University of Wisconsin professor Donald F. Kettl writes in a paper prepared for the National Academy of Public Administration. Kettl is persuasive in arguing that the accumulation of technological, economic and policy changes over the course of two generations has produced a "fundamental transformation of governance . . . that poses substantial challenges for public institutions and how we manage them." Meeting these challenges will be the work of the next President and his successors in the early part of the new century.

Tim sig2 5/3/96
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