Good government groups give Obama transition high marks

Leaders of good government groups are praising President-elect Obama's transition, and ramping up their own operations to provide resources for political appointees and to press the administration to adopt a range of management reforms.

"The Obama folks are off to a fast start," said Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service, who had called on both Obama and Sen. John McCain to plan more aggressively for the transition. "The fact that they've got their White House chief of staff lined up within days of the election is a good sign. They have to keep running at a very fast clip. The reality will be that they will need to produce their designees faster than any administration has ever done before if they expect to truly meet the challenges at hand."

John Kamensky, a senior fellow at the IBM Center for The Business of Government, said that although the Obama team had been cautious about its transition planning during the campaign, and even after, that discretion was actually a strategic move.

"The reason for circumspection is obviously an acute awareness that Obama's president-elect, not president," he said. "By keeping their operation for a lot of their transition stuff in Chicago, it's creating a breathing space for President Bush."

Kamensky noted that while policy-oriented think tanks like the Center for American Progress, whose president, John Podesta, is on leave to run the transition, were more visible, the Obama team has been careful to include government management experts in its transition efforts.

Jenna Dorn, the president of the National Academy of Public Administration and former head of the Federal Transit Administration, has advised the transition coordinating committee. Sally Katzen, a NAPA fellow and former deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, is overseeing the transition team's comprehensive review of government operations. And NAPA fellow Harrison Wellford, a retired partner at law firm Latham & Watkins, also is serving as an adviser to the Obama transition.

Patricia McGinnis, president of the Council for Excellence in Government, said she was encouraged by the Obama's team broad approach to the transition.

"I do think the principles of transparency, open government and accountability are very strong management principles, and the fact those are government-wide and administration-wide themes are very good things," she said.

Stier said that the Partnership was talking to people involved in transition efforts, but declined to say whether the group was working with the Bush or Obama team, or both.

"We're trying to make sure that they pay attention to these management issues and we focus on them in the context we think is most important," he said. "Those are our priorities and we're trying to help where we can along those lines."

Good-government groups' efforts, and the resources they are making available, are more coordinated than they have been in the past, Kamensky said.

"I think that it may not be so much that we're organized, but that we're connected," he said. The thing that different groups have been doing in the past is that a lot of organizations provided insights, but didn't know" what other groups were doing.

The Government Performance Coalition, an umbrella group for many of the management nonprofits, plans to release a list of management agenda items next week that it will urge Obama to adopt. And the Council for Excellence in Government will publish next week its Survival Guide for Presidential Nominees and its Prune Book, a guide to some of the toughest jobs in the Plum Book, a directory of top posts in the executive and legislative branches.

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