Consult feds for reform
- By Milt x_Zall
- Oct 01, 2001
The Bush administration has announced a plan to improve the management
of the federal government. Every administration tries to improve government
management, so why shouldn't this one?
One thing that would help is to appoint people to Schedule C jobs who
have management skills and aren't simply being placed because they helped
elect the president. But don't count on that anytime soon.
The Office of Management and Budget wants to set specific performance
targets and outcomes for agencies as it develops annual budgets. This approach
is part of the "Freedom to Manage" legislation that the administration plans
to introduce shortly.
Starting with fiscal 2003, funding levels will be tied to performance,
says OMB Deputy Director Sean O'Keefe. This could affect programs the administration
believes are not performing well.
This is a harebrained idea. Why penalize a program if it's not being
managed properly? For example, let's say the Federal Aviation Administration
doesn't manage its personnel resources well. In the private sector, the
managers at fault would be replaced. But what the Bush administration plans
to do is keep the managers and cut the FAA's budget. That will only make
it harder for the FAA to do its job.
OMB officials are also talking about early retirement and buyouts again.
If you cut staffing levels, which were reduced substantially during the
Clinton years, how can you expect better performance?
And OMB officials are considering merit pay again. When merit pay was
first introduced under President Carter, everyone thought it was a great
idea. And it was. The problem was it was impossible to implement in the
federal work environment. Almost everyone got an outstanding rating the
In subsequent years, agencies were told they couldn't do that and were
asked to follow quotas. That didn't work in part because Congress failed
to appropriate the money required to implement merit pay. So managers received
merit increases that were so small they became laughable. Now, they want
to try it again. Good luck. Why doesn't someone realize that if significant
changes could alter how the federal government is managed, those changes
would have been made long ago? Every incoming administration seems to believe
that it's smarter than all the preceding ones.
Political appointees don't bother to ask if someone before them has
tried to fix the problem. I have firsthand experience. I was a special assistant
to an incoming Cabinet- level appointee in state government. The new people
couldn't get information about how their predecessors dealt with particular
problems because their predecessors left no records. Why should they help
appointees from the other party?
Let's hope President Bush has the wisdom to realize that he can solve
many of the problems facing him by consulting career federal employees with
Zall is a retired federal employee who since 1987 has written the Bureaucratus
column for Federal Computer Week. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.