This is citizen-centered?

In his management agenda, released in August 2001, President Bush said his first priority was "to make government citizen-centered," according to the agenda document. However, the policy, a Bush administration cornerstone, has so far rung hollow.

In the President's Management Agenda, Bush said he wants to "reduce the distance between citizens and decision-makers," using, for example, e-government programs to make it easier for citizens to access public information and work with agencies.

However, when the administration makes it difficult for officials in the executive branch to discuss the business of government — the people's business — the distance between citizens and decision-makers does not narrow but rather widens into a chasm.

Increasingly, government information technology managers, when asked by reporters to discuss and explain IT policies and programs in their agencies, decline, saying they fear reprisal.

This management by intimidation hinders government reforms by keeping agency officials from sharing best practices and vetting ideas in a public forum. The approach makes it difficult for the Bush administration to reconcile its citizen-centered rhetoric with its management tactics.

Bush's gag order sends a clear message that the administration does not respect government managers or value open and frank discussion — a sentiment underscored last week when the president declared that federal civilian employees should receive a 3.1 percent pay increase in 2003, not 4.1 percent, but still found it financially feasible to hand out bonuses to political appointees.

Bush has called for better government management, but his own administration has violated some basic good management tenets: Treat employees fairly, with trust and respect, and foster an atmosphere of open debate without fear of reprisal. Not doing so will jeopardize Bush's goal of creating a citizen-centric government and the ability to create information systems and policies to defend the nation. n

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