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George Voinovich, the Rare Politician Who Fought for Better Management

Former GOP senator, who died over the weekend, was a steadfast defender of federal employees.

Largely lost in the terrible news out of Orlando this weekend was the passing of a central figure in the early 21st century world of federal management: former Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio.

Voinovich, a two-term senator, was a rare political bird: a lawmaker who cared about how government agencies are managed, and especially about the people who work in them.

“He'd talk with anyone who would listen about how the federal government needed to shore up its workforce because impending retirements were going to rob it of a lot of talent,” wrote Stephen Koff in a obituary.

"We need to stop bashing people who work in government," Voinovich said in 2001. "They are the best-motivated workers we have when they are given the tools, compensation and empowerment to get the job done."

Voinovich’s commitment to government management and workforce issues pre-dated his time in the Senate. As governor of Ohio, he instituted a program called Quality Service Through Partnership to promote labor-management cooperation in the state’s operations.

In 2011, after Voinovich left the Senate, Andrew Richardson, his staff director on the Senate Subcommittee on the Oversight of Government Management, and John Salamone, a staffer on the panel, wrote an appreciation of him for Government Executive. In it, they noted Voinovich had held more than 50 hearings during his tenure on management and human capital issues.

“But the senator was never interested in hosting hearings with little or no outcome,” they wrote. “His goal was to understand a particular issue and leverage his experience and expertise to develop practical solutions to some of government's most perplexing management challenges.”

Voinovich introduced more than 20 legislative proposals related to federal management, many of which became law. “Perhaps the most consequential, Richardson and Salamone wrote, “was the establishment of a chief human capital officer position in departments and agencies to elevate personnel management across government and to give HR professionals a seat at the head table.”

In 2010, Jason Miller of Federal News Radio reported on one of Voinovich’s last hearings, in which he urged agencies to defend themselves and push Congress for the resources they need. Here’s what Voinovich said at the hearing:

“It just drives me crazy that more departments don't really stand up and start raising you know what when we don't give you resources you need to get the job done, particularly in management. There seems to be a lack of appreciation in this body for management and the importance of having the right people, with the knowledge and skills at the right time, and having to give them the tools. I think you ought to stand up and fight and not get rolled. Make a big deal out of it. Get the president involved. If I'm going to get the job done I've got to have the tools to get that job done.”