Lawmakers push for chief management officers at agencies

Two key lawmakers are continuing to advocate the creation of a chief management officer position for federal agencies to ensure that management issues are a top priority and progress continues into the next administration.

Sens. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, and George Voinovich, R-Ohio, have pushed for the new position for several years, focusing originally on the Defense and Homeland Security departments. While both those agencies have named CMOs, the senators fear the reforms might have been insufficiently comprehensive. The Government Accountability Office has called for full-time, senior-level chief operating officers or chief management officers with term appointments of five to seven years with a performance agreement.

"The federal government is no model to be followed for economy, efficiency, effectiveness, ethics, and the mere fact that we don't have these positions now is part of the problem and we need to resolve that," said Comptroller General David M. Walker.

The Defense Department, which is at least partially responsible for 15 of the 27 GAO-designated areas of high risk, was the primary focus of Thursday's hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia. Defense has named Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England as the department's CMO, but Walker said this designation does not incorporate the kind of management changes the senators and GAO advocate.

Walker said while England has been very effective in his position, designating him CMO is "business as usual, form over substance."

"Gordon England is G-O-N-E at noon on Jan. 20, 2009," Walker said. "That's part of the problem. We need to recognize the reality that these are very challenging and difficult efforts that take years to accomplish, and there needs to be a relative degree of continuity."

Paul Brinkley, deputy undersecretary of Defense for business transformation, said the department is extremely focused on ensuring that changes outlast any administration, but emphasized that the limitations of the federal government are unique.

"Making sure the changes we make are sustainable is the underpinning of every decision we make.… it is about how can we sustain given the constraints we operate under and that given, unlike the IBMs, the General Electrics and other companies of the world, we undergo, at least every four years, a major turnover in the leadership of the organization."

Akaka and Voinovich said as the end of the Bush administration approaches, the term appointment element of the CMO position becomes especially important. Designating CMOs without longer terms likely would water down the effect of the institutional change, the senators said.

"The continuity of management and business operations is critical," Akaka said. "A CMO could be that link between administrations." Voinovich said creating the CMO position would be an effective way to ensure that "the baton wasn't dropped in the transition."

Clay Johnson, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, argued against the creation of chief management officers across agencies. Johnson insisted that this post would increase the likelihood of conflicting orders, saying well-defined goals, a reasonably aggressive plan of action, clear avenues of accountability, and an understanding of importance and urgency are all agencies need to improve management and performance.

"DoD, Homeland Security, every agency needs to be held accountable for how effectively they spend the taxpayers' money.… we don't need a second deputy to make that happen," Johnson said.

While political appointees may be out of a job in January 2009, Johnson said agencies can ensure that management improvement plans outlast their creators by tying implementation to the performance evaluations of Senior Executive Service employees.

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