The Vision Thing

Barack Obama thinks big, and wants to leave the management details to others.

Back in January, when Barack Obama was locked in a battle for the Democratic presidential nomination with Hillary Clinton, he took on a question that would dog him not only throughout the primaries, but in the general election campaign as well: Which is more important, a clear vision for change or experienced leadership?

In an interview with Nevada's Reno Gazette-Journal, Obama stated his case, declaring that he wasn't running for the position of "operating officer" of the government. "Some in this debate around experience seem to think the job of the president is to go in and run some bureaucracy," he said. "Well, that's not my job. My job is to set a vision of 'here's where the bureaucracy needs to go.' "

In a subsequent debate, Clinton challenged Obama's assumptions, saying a president must "be able to manage and run the bureaucracy."

Obama backed down-a little. "There's no doubt that you've got to be a good manager," he said. "And that's not what I was arguing. The point, in terms of bringing together a team, is that you get the best people and you're able to execute and hold them accountable." Still, he added, "what has been missing is the ability to bring people together, to mobilize the country, to move us in a better direction, and to be straight with the American people."

Given Obama's stance, it's not surprising that, as Robert Brodsky reports in our cover story this month, he has been somewhat circumspect about exactly what he would do in the federal management arena if he's elected.

But as the campaign entered its final stages, Obama dropped some hints. He said he wanted to re-invigorate public service, even "make government cool again." And he indicated that an Obama administration might pick up where the Clinton administration left off with its reinventing government agenda, slipping the old REGO catchphrase about a government that "works better and costs less" into his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

To help bring Obama's vision for the future of the federal bureaucracy into focus, Brodsky has dug deep into his policy proposals and interviewed a wide range of his advisers, along with outside observers and former Clinton officials. What emerges is an ambitious plan for a transparent, high-tech, efficient government. Now all that remains is to see whether Obama will get a chance to put his vision to the test in the real world.

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