Role of agency COO begins to take shape

"Implementing Government Reform"

Agency officials are still ironing out the job description, but they are hopeful that the chief operating officers being sought by the Bush administration will help it deliver on its management goals.

President Bush this month directed all agencies to name a chief operating officer—someone who would be at the deputy secretary level and oversee the agency's role in the administration's management reform. The efforts include linking an agency's budget to its program performance, expanding competitive sourcing and improving agencies' use of e-government in delivering services.

Agency officials seem to like the idea of a COO. "It may prove to be a much more effective way to improve the business aspects of the government," said David Drabkin, deputy associate administrator for the Office of Acquisition Policy in the General Services Administration's Office of Governmentwide Policy.

For senior managers, having someone to champion their cause directly to the agency head will be a positive step. "It portends good things for us, and perhaps greater coordination among the different business offices," Drabkin said.

Agencies will likely pick someone who works well with existing staff members, such as the senior procurement executive, the chief information officer and the chief financial officer, he said.

The COO role supports the administration's plan to reduce layers of middle management, officials said. "In most cases, the existing deputy [for management] will assume an additional title," said Christopher Ullman, associate director for communications at the Office of Management and Budget.

The administration's intention is not to take over or interfere in the work of officials already in place, Ullman said. "This is a way of providing leadership and establishing responsibility," he said.

Bush's mandate gives an official stamp to a structure that was already beginning to form within agencies, said Donald Kettl, a professor of political science and public affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

It also ensures that management issues have a direct link to the White House through the President's Management Council, Kettl said. The council will comprise all the COOs and other key officials, and will be chaired by the deputy director of OMB, Sean O'Keefe. "What this does is to hard-wire the function into OMB and to make it clear that we're moving beyond the informal structure to an official management channel," Kettl said.

The council will be an important force because it will provide governmentwide coordination, said Mark Forman, associate director for information technology and e-government at OMB. "They're kind of a steering committee on one hand, and the implementation element within their individual agencies," he said. Just over a month into his position, Forman's focus is advancing the administration's e-government agenda via a new interagency task force. The President's Management Council will oversee the work and ensure that all of the elements of the management agenda are working together rather than competing for time and resources, he said.

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