From ELC: Public service seen as important in new administration

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. -- Federal managers, employees and contractors are a big part of the reason Americans should be secure about weathering tough economic times, Paul Light, the Paulette Goddard Professor of Public Service at New York University, said here today.


Light, author of the 2008 book, "A Government Ill-Executed," told a breakfast audience at the Executive Leadership Conference that times will get better. "I feel comfortable about the future in part because I feel comfortable about you," he said.


The American Council for Technology/Industry Advisory Council event attracts a mixed audience of government and contractor attendees.


Light's plenary address spanned a variety of topics, most tied to the upcoming transition of administrations.


The new administration will need some time to get into place, he said. Due to the lengthy clearance process for some political appointees, it may take several months for the next president to fill agency positions. The Bush administration needed an average of nine months from Inauguration Day to getting spots filled, and that was a good record, Light said.


"The management positions tend to come last," he added. "It's just the way of the world." However, he predicted the Office of Federal Procurement Policy and the General Services Administration would be among the high-priority agencies that the president will try to appoint leaders for quickly. 


Light cautioned that no one should expect a fast turnaround, however. "There's not going to be a New Deal next year. There's not going to be a Great Society next year," he said. Instead, the new administration's first year will be spent fixing problems, he said.


Chief information officers, shouldn't fear campaign rhetoric about cutting the size of government, he said. Both major candidates have made that a theme of their messages, with Democratic Sen. Barack Obama promising a more cautious approach, and Republican Sen. John McCain calling for cuts across the board.


"When you talk about taking a hatchet to government -- or a scalpel -- it rarely includes information technology," he said. However, many lower-level federal employees don't think they get to use IT to its maximum advantage, he said.


"The federal workforce has a problem with morale," he said. "They don't believe their leadership is very good."


Science and technology continue to be a strength of the country, but he noted, "We don't think about the federal science and technology workforce anymore." Over the years, the concentration of science and technology talent has spread into a network of public- and private-sector organizations.


Ultimately, Light said, either of the major candidates can bring the country through the current crisis -- with help.

"I'm not scared of McCain or Obama," he said. "I think they're good men, with good men and women around them. We're going to get through this. And that's largely because of you."

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

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