Transition could create leadership void, report says

Several key federal agencies stand to lose more than 10 percent of their leadership team during the transition to the next administration, according to a new report issued by INPUT, an industry consulting firm.

The study shows that the Education Department would be hit the hardest, losing more than 22 percent of its top personnel, including political appointees, Senior Executive Service members and senior-level managers. The State, Defense and Labor departments would see declines of more than 14 percent while the Homeland Security Department, which has not been through a presidential transition, would experience leadership losses of more than 11 percent.

A new report by the Congressional Research Service indicates that transitions -- particularly the first in the post-Sept. 11 era -- pose a high risk to national security.

These expected vacancies are significantly higher than in previous administrations, according to Deniece Peterson, an INPUT senior analyst and author of the report, which offers broad recommendations on how industry can assist during the transition period.

President Bush named 12 percent more political appointees and 33 percent more Schedule C appointees than President Clinton. Schedule C appointees have noncompetitive positions with policy-determining responsibilities and work directly with agency heads.

Until a new leadership team is in place, agencies will rely on experienced career officials to maintain operations, creating somewhat of a holding pattern, the report said.

"They will not want to make major changes," Peterson said. "They are just keeping the wheels spinning until the new administration teams come in and start making changes to programs, directions and priorities."

Exacerbating the impact of the transition period is the high percentage of baby boomers who have begun to or plan to use the changeover in administrations as an opportunity to retire from public service.

"All agencies are already planning for [the transition]," said Martin Wagner, a senior fellow at the IBM Center for the Business of Government, who spent 31 years in public service. "And I would think they would also be looking at their career cadre to ask how long they will be staying and if they are eligible for retirement."

The Office of Personnel Management estimates retirement rates of 17 percent in the information technology and acquisition sectors during the final four years of the Bush administration. While these rates are slightly less than the overall 18.5 percent retirement rate during that period, the CRS report noted that they were occurring within critical occupations that were already under an increasing amount of strain.

There are roughly 7,800 political positions, half of which are part-time jobs on boards and commissions, according to John Kamensky, another senior fellow with the IBM Center for the Business of Government, who blogs regularly about the upcoming transition. The remaining positions include 1,200 appointments requiring Senate confirmation, 1,400 Schedule C officials, 800 noncareer senior executives and 800 members of the new White House staff.

The revolving door at the White House and at executive branch agencies will present new opportunities for contractors who can provide the next administration with short- and long-term guidance, innovation, and acquisition needs, Peterson suggested.

"There is good news and bad news for contractors," the report said. "Although the face of the next administration is unknown, IT investments will always be a critical enabler for government operations. However, the environment in which IT program decisions are made is certain to change. There are opportunities for industry leaders to position themselves now to be ahead of the game."

Peterson said agency administrators and program managers already are beginning to evaluate programs to highlight achievements, complete ongoing projects and identify the next steps.

Contractors with a forward-looking approach, she said, will be needed to help agencies evaluate and validate their IT investment portfolio, develop a list of possible problems during the transition, and identify alternative program management approaches to account for the different priorities of the next administration.

Those changes could include major procurement reforms. The report finds that the remaining Democratic candidates, particularly Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., have raised concerns about large, multiagency task-order vehicles such as the Homeland Security Department's Enterprise Acquisition Gateway for Leading Edge Solutions and the Air Force's Network-Centric Solutions contract.

These indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity vehicles could be targeted because individual task orders are not subject to full and open competition, Peterson said.

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