Command Performance

Government's top executives are front and center in implementing new priorities.

This year marks the sixth time we have featured government's chief officers in a special issue of the magazine.

During that period, much has changed. We've seen a transition to a new administration involving substantial turnover among politically appointed chiefs. Old issues (such as getting agencies' financial reports in order) are still with us, but in many cases they have been superseded by new challenges (tracking hundreds of billions of dollars in Recovery Act spending, for example).

Back in 2005, chiefs were something of a novelty. Chief financial officers had been around for 15 years, but other top officials, like chief human capital officers, still were getting their sea legs. Now not only CFOs and CHCOs, but chiefs of acquisition, information and information security are a familiar part of the federal landscape.

That, in turn, means the stakes for these officials are much higher. CFOs are on the hook for cutting down on hundreds of billions of dollars in erroneous payments. CHCOs must make good on the Obama administration's pledge to overhaul the federal personnel system, starting with the hiring process. CIOs are being asked to put an overwhelming amount of federal data online, shift key functions to the Web's cloud and consolidate data centers.

CISOs are charged with nothing less than preventing a digital Pearl Harbor. And CAOs must oversee an effort to substantially reduce the government's reliance on contractors, especially for acquisition oversight.

In figuring out how to tackle these issues, the chiefs might have something to gain from listening to the people who work for them. Earlier this year, Government Executive's research arm, the Government Business Council, interviewed more than 25 federal managers about what they wish their chief officers would focus on. Here's what they said:

Communication and Collaboration: Most of government's pressing challenges don't fit into narrow boxes and would be more effectively tackled with a unified approach.

Leadership and Implementation: Chief officers should be as passionate about implementing their big ideas as they are about announcing them.

Performance Management: Chiefs should lead the charge in keeping agency officials at all levels accountable.

The Ideal and the Real: Most important, managers urged chiefs to get a good sense of an agency's capabilities before making pie-in-the-sky proposals. "Most of the aspirations are good," one said, "but there's a tendency for them to come from an ivory tower."

The most successful chiefs are ahead of the game in heeding such advice. This year, for the first time, we've identified some of them to highlight as Chiefs of the Year. We asked our reporters who cover the work of the various chiefs to find individual executives who are coming up with innovative ways of meeting critical objectives. The point is not that these people are necessarily unsurpassed in their fields, but that their peers have much to learn from their experiences.

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