Facing History

This is no time for slogans or fads.

Every transfer of presidential power is a historic occasion. After all, we've had only 43 chief executives. But the inauguration of the 44th later this month is more significant than most. Beyond the obvious fact that we're about to see our first African-American president sworn into office, that president is taking the reins of power during a time of enormous uncertainty and anxiety in the nation.

More than most presidents, Barack Obama needs to succeed. With the economy in free-fall, the military committed to massive engagements overseas, and the public eager for action on health care and the environment, there's very little margin for error. That has emboldened us to do something we've never tried before: offer our advice to the new president.

Robert Brodsky and Elizabeth Newell, writing on behalf of the entire staff of the magazine, have penned a memo to Obama with a series of suggestions on how to take on the task that could determine the success or failure of his administration: leading and managing the massive federal bureaucracy.

Now is not the time, we argue, for new slogans or management fads. What the government needs is a leader who can synthesize elements of recent reform efforts, building on what has worked in each of them, from Bill Clinton's laboratories of reinvention to George W. Bush's program performance measurement efforts.

We implore the president to staff his administration at every level with the kind of qualified professionals who can provide the direction federal managers and executives need to move swiftly to implement his agenda. Obama's initial moves in this area won him early plaudits. He picked a diverse, bipartisan Cabinet and stocked his transition teams with savvy veterans of federal operations.

If the newly inaugurated president is interested in a case study in implementing change in the federal sphere, he should look no further than the agency that manages the country's space program. NASA has embarked on a huge effort to realign the space shuttle program's 1,700 civil servants and 15,000 contractors to meet the agency's new mission of returning to the moon. Brittany Ballenstedt reports on that process in this month's cover story.

Of course, the new president might have his own ideas about whether getting back to the moon and then going on to Mars is the right mission for NASA. Figuring that out will be just one of his challenges.

Also this month, we're proud to debut The Briefing, a new section at the front of the magazine featuring news from the around the government. We hope you like it.

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