Transition Experts Bow to Congress’s Demand for Easier Discipline of Senior Execs

Government employees hang bunting at the U.S. Capitol before the 2009 inauguration. Government employees hang bunting at the U.S. Capitol before the 2009 inauguration. Architect of the U.S. Capitol file photo

The latest in a series of recommendations for the coming presidential transition calls for the next administration to incentivize cross-agency collaboration on strategic systems and accede to the current pressures from Congress to raise the accountability bar for underperforming senior executives.

In a report titled “Transition 2016: Equipping the Government for Success in 2016 and Beyond,” expert committees convened by the National Academy of Public Administration offer specific management recommendations in strategic foresight, evidence-based approaches, collaboration across boundaries and human capital.

“This report represents many hours of thought and discussion from some of the best and brightest former leaders in government, as well as from academia and the private sector,” said Transition 2016 Co-Chairs David Chu and Edward DeSeve. “We are proud to offer this guidebook of best practices to the next administration from those who have previously served and know these issues well, and we are actively reaching out to the presidential campaigns to encourage that they begin the transition planning process now.”

The academy has been working with similar nonprofits on such transition activities as a list of the toughest management jobs in government, policy memos and transition panel discussions. “Things will move very quickly after the election,” said Dan Blair, the academy’s president and CEO, “so it is critical that the campaigns start thinking about these transition issues now in order to be prepared for a seamless transfer of power.”

The proposals on collaboration stem from failures such as “catastrophic traps like those that captured past administrations from both parties: the George W. Bush Administration’s struggles with Hurricane Katrina; and the Obama Administration’s difficulties with the launch of the Affordable Care Act,” the report said. “The lessons are clear: success depends on building strong alliances and treating those partners as genuine collaborators.”

Specifically, the report proposed that the Office of Personnel Management build cross-unit collaboration into criteria for annual bonuses for all high-grade employees, as well as “build cross-sector, cross-division, and cross-department collaboration into the qualification criteria . . . for the Senior Executive Service.”

The Office of Management and Budget should assign a pool of funds—perhaps similar to a joint Veterans Affairs-Defense Department fund in 2003—“to provide resources to cross-agency collaborations on significant national issues involving three or more federal agencies or single federal agencies with multiple state, county, and local agencies,” the committee members suggest.

Noting that Congress will likely continue to press for new ways to hold problematic executives accountable, the report offers four options for speeding up the adjudication process:

  • Patiently stick with the status quo’s allowance of firings following a long due process.
  • Seek legislation to revise the standards for SES appeal rights “to reflect the fact that senior executives should be held to a higher standard by virtue of their leadership responsibilities.”
  • Seek legislation to remove executive adverse action appeal rights from the jurisdiction of the Merit Systems Protection Board.
  • Seek legislation to move SES members to “at will” status.

The remainder of the report addresses strategic foresight as a disciplined approach to identifying and analyzing scenarios that have the potential to either put policy objectives at risk or create opportunities for more effective action. Finally, the academy’s committees detail a need to further pursue evidence-based approaches to program management by strengthening the use of data, evidence, evaluation, and innovation by government leaders and other stakeholders.

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