Majority of SESers go through their first transition

Some career senior executives and presidential appointees rank delays in the confirmation process as a major concern in the transition of administrations, according to two surveys released by the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA).


Appointees said leadership is key to success in their role in the transition, while senior executives count on their knowledge of their agencies’ policies and processes to be effective, the two surveys released Nov, 20 found.

NAPA released the surveys as career executives and presidential appointees prepare for the administration of President-elect Barack Obama. That process can be “messy,” but it has a good outcome, said Jennifer Dorn, NAPA president. It will take leadership by both career senior executives in the Senior Executive Service (SES) and presidential appointees, she said.

“That’s why it is so important to jump start the work on this so that on day one people are equipped to hit the ground running, and part of that is an attitude and part of that is all the preparation work that each side, the SESers and politicals do to get ready,” she said at a panel discussion about the surveys findings.

In one survey that polled SES members, 60 percent of the respondents said this is the first presidential transition they have experienced in their current role. That may indicate challenges for career executives and presidential appointees starting the new administration, NAPA said. New appointees need to be able to rely on the knowledge and experience of career executives, NAPA said.

More than half of the 1,100 senior executives surveyed during September and October reported they were a SES members for five years or less, although may have had federal experience in other positions.

Agencies are conducting activities designed to foster a smooth transition, such as preparing information on agency budget, key programs, mandates and risk, the survey said. However, 21 percent of SES members reported they had no knowledge of transition activities in their agencies, according to the findings.

SES members responded that clarity of an official's role, knowledge of external stakeholders and an understanding of people and culture are important for both groups. SES members indicated that they see their role more internally focused on policies and processes, while appointees must work with external stakeholders, especially Congress, NAPA reported.

There was little work done in agencies in important areas, such as developing descriptions of key external stakeholders, describing relationships with Congress and examining the agency, SES members responded.

In addition to potential confirmation delays, SES members reported that distrust between the appointee and career members, the eagerness of new appointees to change policy and a lack of preparation by the appointee are concerns early in the administration, the survey found.

In addition to leadership, current presidential appointees indicated in interim findings in a separate survey that negotiation, communications and collaboration were requisite skills to be effective in their position.

That survey, sponsored by NAPA, the Partnership for Public Service, the IBM Center for the Business of Government and the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute for Government, aims to provide advice from current presidential appointees to the next generation of appointees. The organizations will publish the final report of the findings of the survey of 66 presidential appointees on Dec. 31, said Edward DeSeve, professor and director of the Fels Institute.

The overwhelming majority of the appointees said they would like to see more training provided in orientation, according to the second survey. Forty-five percent said they received no training.

The appointees reported that managing and evaluating employee performance and measuring results and outcomes were the leading management areas. Recruiting and retaining talented staff and assuring financial management and internal controls followed, the second survey reported.

The appointees gave equal weight to the importance of managing their relationships with Congress, career executives, the Office of Management and Budget and the public, the second survey found.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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