Management in transition

Transparency will play a major part in helping the next administration get up to speed on the government’s most pressing management challenges.

The Office of Management and Budget and Government Accountability Office, which are playing lead roles in managing the transition, intend to ensure that agencies have their goals and programs set for the coming year and that they are easy to find on the agencies’ Web sites when the new administration takes office.

They aim to make it easy for the new  lenders to quickly identify top priorities and get to work even while assembling their team.

The Bush administration’s goal is to ensure that its successor can take office Jan. 20 ready to govern and with an understanding of the key issues facing the federal government, said Clay Johnson, OMB’s deputy director for management.

OMB expects agencies’ career executives to play key roles in helping the new administration’s leaders identify and address the more important management issues.

As part of transition guidance issued in July, OMB directed each agency to identify a career federal official who could lead and coordinate transition work. Agencies are expected to summarize policy, internal management, legal and infrastructure issues that will need the new administration’s immediate attention.

OMB will meet with agencies’ senior career transition coordinators Sept. 24 to make sure that agencies understand the needs of the incoming and outgoing administrations.

Watching the watch list
To ensure the next administration is prepared to address management and workforce challenges, agencies must establish their fiscal 2009 programs and plans to reduce program risk no later than Jan. 20, Johnson said. He made that statement in testimony during a Sept. 10 hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia Subcommittee.

Earlier this month, OMB released evaluations of agency programs under the Program Assessment Rating Tool. Beginning this year, PART includes summaries of individual agencies’ programs and detailed information on how they plan to fix or mitigate problems with programs on GAO’s high-risk list. That approach provides more transparency and accountability, OMB said.

Overall, the next administration will benefit from the progress agencies have made during the Bush years to spend program funds more effectively, Johnson said.

“They will almost certainly come in and seek to install different priorities, but they will inherit a lot of purposefulness,” Johnson said. “They will not inherit an empty blackboard, but a blackboard full of clear goals, lots of accountability, lots of specific ways forward.” 

White House staff members have met with representatives of the two major presidential candidates and will continue to help them prepare to get their team “on the field much faster than ever before,” he said.

The next administration will have to nominate a number of political appointees quickly, and both candidates have committed to focusing on the 100 most important positions first, Johnson said.

“They have to try to do it multiple times faster than ever before,” he said. “Both candidates are aware of this and that our enemies see us as weak during this time of transition.”

White House representatives are also meeting with FBI officials to discuss the importance of performing security clearances on nominees faster than in the past, and they plan to meet with Senate committees to discuss the kinds of candidates for which the new administration will need senators’ approval, Johnson said.

GAO will provide new and returning congressional and executive branch policy-makers with a snapshot of activities across government and will emphasize the need to update some federal projects, said Gene Dodaro, acting comptroller general at GAO. Prioritizing the challenges is crucial, he added.

“People consistently underestimate the implementation challenges associated with whatever new policies they want to put into effect,” Dodaro said. “Unless we communicate that to them, there’s a tendency not to take some of these management challenges seriously.”

GAO will give Congress and the executive branch facts, options and suggestions that they can use to make policy choices during the pivotal transition year, he said. GAO’s transition work will also highlight the need to modernize the machinery of government through better use of information technology, financial management, workforce and contracting practices.

GAO plans to detail the same pressing management issues for the next administration that agencies are tackling today. Among those issues, GAO said the government must:

  •  Improve management of  IT and control its costs.

Agencies have difficulty prudently managing major modernization efforts, making sure that executives are accountable for IT investments, putting key controls in place to help manage those projects, and ensuring that systems and data have adequate security and privacy protections, Dodaro said. 
OMB’s Management Watch List has identified 413 IT projects — totaling $25.2 billion in spending for fiscal 2008 — as being poorly planned, performing poorly or both. OMB has taken steps to improve the identification of watch list and high-risk projects, including publicly disclosing reasons for placing projects on the lists, he said.

  • Address workforce challenges. 

About one-third of the people employed by the federal government at the end of fiscal 2007 will become eligible to retire during the next administration, Dodaro said. As experienced employees retire, they leave behind critical gaps in leadership and institutional knowledge, which could adversely affect the government’s ability to carry out its responsibilities, he said.
“Agencies must recruit and retain employees able to create, sustain and thrive in organizations that are flatter, results-oriented and externally focused,” Dodaro said. They must also be able to collaborate with other government entities and with the private and nonprofit sectors to achieve desired outcomes, he added.

  • Strengthen agencies’ ability to manage contractors and recognize risks.

Many agencies — including the Defense, Homeland Security and Energy departments — increasingly rely on contractors to carry out their basic operations, Dodaro said.

In fiscal 2007, agencies spent $436 billion on contracts for products and services. Consequently, GAO listed acquisition and contract management issues as high risk because hundreds of billions of dollars are exposed to potential waste and misuse. GAO auditors have said agencies need to fix or mitigate existing problems while re-examining the rules and regulations that govern the agency/contractor relationship in an increasingly blended workforce, Dodaro said. Agencies must make sure that contractors are playing appropriate roles and that agencies have sufficient in-house experts to monitor contractors’ costs, quality and performance.

Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), the subcommittee’s chairman, is concerned about the explosion in contractors performing government work, especially since the DHS’ creation. Large numbers of contract employees work side by side with federal employees. The next administration will need to make oversight of contracts and contractors a high priority, he said during the Senate subcommittee hearing earlier this month.

“With fewer and fewer career employees at agencies and more and more contractors, it is important to fill leadership positions quickly to ensure proper oversight,” Akaka said.

The General Services Administration, which is charged with handling logistics for the new administration’s transition team, must communicate with the president-elect’s team and agencies to help ensure a smooth transition, said Gail Lovelace, chief human capital officer and senior career executive for the presidential transition at GSA.

In consultation with the National Archives and Records Administration, GSA is developing a directory to provide information about the officers, organization, and statutory and administrative authorities, functions, duties, responsibilities and mission of each department and agency.

“All the information from agencies is pulled together in one place for the incoming administration,” she said. “We have shared with the campaigns an outline of the directory.”

GSA is also working with NARA to create a transition summary document and design a Web site where more detailed information will reside, Lovelace said. 


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