Bush management agenda wins nods

President's management agenda

The Bush administration's newly released management agenda, aimed at improving government performance in areas ranging from information technology to budget decisions, is drawing praise from across the federal community.

Agencies, members of Congress and private-sector advisory groups say President Bush's strategy of taking on a focused set of initiatives rather than trying to reform many areas at once will likely yield governmentwide results before the next presidential election. And that could make the difference in meeting the mandate of making government more accountable to its citizens.

"They seem to have identified specific things that, if they were in fact fixed, would matter," said Barry White, director of government performance projects at the nonprofit Council for Excellence in Government. "If they hammer at it enough, they will make some progress."

The Office of Management and Budget officially released the president's management agenda Aug. 25. The agenda covers five areas, including expanding e-government and improving management of the federal workforce (see box).

OMB detailed nine agency-specific initiatives, such as developing better coordination between medical care systems in the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments so they can share information. And initiatives with measurable results are key to the Bush strategy, said Sean O'Keefe, deputy director of OMB.

"If you're looking for a "Hail Mary' pass in any of this, the little zinger that's going to be the management initiative, that's going to take on some momentous question you can read the entire report and not find one like that," O'Keefe said. "Instead, this is reflective of the serious business of going about the day-in, day-out kind of management challenges that confront an organization the size of the federal government." That focus is what differentiates the Bush reform agenda from previous ones, and there have been many because every administration "discovers the importance of improving government," White said.

OMB officials have been talking about the five management agenda items since May. Those discussions, and the fact that the effort is clearly placed within OMB, demonstrate an important focus from the administration on consistently pushing those initiatives instead of wandering, White said.

Earlier initiatives, such as the National Partnership for Reinventing Government started by Vice President Gore in 1993, lacked a specific focus, he said. And NPR also may have suffered because the Clinton administration separated the reform effort from OMB into a completely new organization, he said.

That does not mean NPR and other efforts did not make a difference at the agency level, said Jim Flyzik, vice chairman of the CIO Council and chief information officer at the Treasury Department. "There have been pockets of success in all the initiatives in the past," Flyzik said.

Beyond the tight focus, a key difference in this agenda is that it is the first in which the president cites e-government as a specific initiative, with an OMB-led interagency task force that will release a set of quick-hit governmentwide initiatives later this month, Flyzik said. "But all of the reforms, in one way or another, will touch on technology."

Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), ranking member of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, called the agenda "very impressive," pointing out the way it mirrors the committee's own focus over the past several years. And the administration's commitment to "supply the sustained interest that is so desperately needed" bodes well for a good partnership with Congress, said Rep. Stephen Horn (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee's Subcommittee on Government Efficiency, Financial Management and Intergovernmental Relations.

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