Mr. President: Look inside agencies for leaders

“As he seeks to replace Cabinet officers, I would urge him to seek people with managerial experience in [running] large, complex organizations,” Elaine Kamarck said Wednesday. “As he seeks to replace Cabinet officers, I would urge him to seek people with managerial experience in [running] large, complex organizations,” Elaine Kamarck said Wednesday. Flickr user thirdwaythinktank

President Obama should seek candidates with management experience to run the federal government during his second term and solicit more input from career civil servants on how to improve agencies, said a former Clinton administration official and a former Republican senator Wednesday.

Talented agency personnel with management know-how will be essential to helping Obama implement his signature health care reform law as well as streamline the bureaucracy where it’s appropriate, according to Elaine Kamarck, who managed Clinton’s reinventing government initiative in the 1990s, and former Ohio Sen. George Voinovich. Kamarck and Voinovich are well-known in Washington for their interest and efforts in government management and federal workforce issues.

“As he seeks to replace Cabinet officers, I would urge him to seek people with managerial experience in [running] large, complex organizations,” Kamarck said during an event at the Brookings Institution on the challenges Obama faces in his second term.

Voinovich agreed and said many good leaders already are working in the federal government. “Why do we always have to go outside? Why not look within the agencies to see who’s there?” he asked. Voinovich, who helped create the federal chief human capital officer position, cited current Comptroller General Gene Dodaro as an example of a career public servant elevated to lead an agency. Dodaro, who took over for David Walker at the Government Accountability Office in an acting capacity in 2008, was nominated to head GAO in 2010. He has spent more than 30 years rising through the ranks at the agency.

Voinovich said talking to federal personnel and agency customers about improving government operations and services is just common sense. There are basic management principles and practices in successful businesses that “we need to get into some of these agencies,” he said.

Kamarck outlined some ideas for reorganizing federal departments during the president’s second term. For instance, the Commerce Department -- which Obama has proposed restructuring -- should focus primarily on “rebuilding our export capacity,” rather than myriad other tasks that currently fall under its roof, Kamarck said. The Homeland Security Department is a “mish-mosh” of agencies and responsibilities that needs a clearer mission, she said. DHS, which Kamarck praised for doing a good job in spite of its patchwork of roles, should focus primarily on border security. Intelligence, cybersecurity and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, for example, shouldn’t be housed in DHS, Kamarck said.

Leaders also shouldn’t be afraid of changing government processes or restructuring agencies if it makes sense, she noted: “We don’t have to protect every darn thing the government ever did. Some things can die. Given the budget constraints, it’s time to say what’s obsolete and what we can do without.”

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.