Managers advised to plan for transition

CAMBRIDGE, Md. -- When should agency information managers start working toward next year's presidential transition? If you have to ask, you're already behind, according to panelists who spoke today at the Interagency Resources Management Conference here.


"It's never too early to begin to prepare for a transition," said panel member Elaine Rigas, who serves as the Homeland Security Department's adviser to the undersecretary for management.


DHS has been working on the transition for more than a year, she said. The process includes identifying the career employees most able to step into acting leadership roles when political appointees leave, and testing their readiness with training and exercises, she said.


Transitions come in various sizes, the panelists said. Smaller transitions include a change in agency administrator or department secretary, but a change in presidential administrations is the big one. A new president comes into office with a new set of priorities, a new philosophy about running agencies and a new team across the government. The differences are often magnified when the Oval Office changes parties.


The next president will be struggling with a budget and a State of the Union address right after taking the oath of office, said Jim Flyzik, founder of the Flyzik Group. For that reason, among others, agency managers who want to champion the continuation of certain programs need to be working on figuring out the best approach to defending them, he said.


"The amount of pressure [on the president] in that first couple of months is going to be great," Flyzik said. "You can't wait until then to be thinking, 'what's my brief?' The time is now."


Doris Hausser, a former Office of Personnel Management chief human capital officer, said an especially frustrating aspect of transition is that it often requires killing some programs that are showing success or that individual managers have a personal stake in. Hausser, a veteran of six presidential administration transitions, said that's a difficult, but inevitable, event.


Flyzik reminded the audience that while transitions can be challenging, they are a necessary part of working in the federal government.


"View a transition as an opportunity," he advised, "not a threat."

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

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