Chiefs might change, but management stays the same

When Colin Powell arrived at the State Department four years ago, its IT infrastructure was in shambles. Among the problems, employees could not access the Internet from their desktop PCs, and at embassies around the world there were no classified PCs connected to the Defense Department’s Secret IP Router Network.

But Powell, one of a wave of cabinet secretaries to resign this month, will be re-membered for fixing these problems and for his commitment to upgrading and using technology to meet State’s mission.

State CIO Bruce Morrison said Powell spent the last four years making sure his re- forms would remain part of the department’s standard operating procedures long after he’d moved on.

“The key thing secretary Powell did to institutionalize his reforms is put in place an $85 million-a-year IT modernization program,” Morrison said. “Before we do any other IT projects, he insisted we pay for modernizing our infrastructure. It has become a part of our annual budget allocation.”

Recognizing IT’s importance

Powell is not alone among the departing department chiefs in receiving praise for seeing the importance of IT and nurturing the processes to manage it better.

At the Commerce Department, departing secretary Donald Evans strengthened the joint review of budget proposals and ongoing projects by the CIO and chief financial officer.

“Secretary Evans put the CIO community on the map as being an important part of the management of the department,” one Commerce systems chief said. “I don’t think that will change when the new secretary comes in.”

An exodus of cabinet officials is a hallmark of most second-term presidencies. When President Reagan began his second term, every cabinet position changed hands. But the continuity in the White House generally leads to a continuity in priorities, the Commerce official said.

Across government, agency officials and government observers say no matter how many secretaries and other executives eventually leave, the President’s Management Agenda will remain as the framework that continues to govern agency priorities.

“This administration laid out a clear agenda on the management side, and the goals are pretty well articulated,” said David McClure, vice president for e-government at the Council for Excellence in Government. “A new person coming in can clearly see what they are walking into, and that may be a factor in both the selection and acceptance of some of these positions.”

And the fact that agencies also have accepted the PMA will make these transitions easier, experts said. Interestingly, respondents to a recent GCN Reader Survey were divided on how well the government has done at meeting the PMA’s improvement goals.

“The PMA is the level playing field for all the political appointees,” said C. Morgan Kinghorn, president of the National Academy of Public Administration. “There have been enough successes with these issues that not much will change dramatically.”

New political appointees also will bring fresh ideas of how to improve the PMA’s implementation, said Carl DeMaio, president of the Performance Institute of Arlington, Va.

“The new people are not wedded to the current situation and they may be able to take an outsider’s perspective on a new way to implement the PMA,” DeMaio said. “The shelf life of a private-sector change agent is about 36 months, so for these secretaries and deputy secretaries to last four years and decide to move on is not a bad thing.”

The Commerce official said most of the impact of a new secretary or deputy would be on the policy side. Few major projects, such as the Decennial Census or the Patent and Trademark Office’s modernization project, would be significantly changed.

The Commerce official said Evans would be remembered for establishing the ground rules of what the agency and bureau CIOs do and whom they directly report to.

Morrison said Powell will be remembered for routinely being involved in IT matters.

“This is how the process works,” DeMaio said. “There are no management or policy decisions driving this. After four years, it is the natural time for people to leave. The impact on management, though, will be minimal.”

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