Do you know who will follow you?
The argument that private firms can do everything better than government agencies can never held much water with me. When it comes to succession planning, however, it's not even a contest.
In just 24 hours in mid-July, three important firms in federal IT -- Booz Allen Hamilton, DynCorp and American Systems -- announced new CEOs. American Systems and Booz Allen both elevated longtime executives who'd been groomed internally, while DynCorp brought in an outsider, and the timelines and reasons for change varied significantly. But in all three cases, the leadership changes came quickly and with clarity -- no acting executives or long-term vacancies to risk sapping a firm's momentum.
For agencies, of course, it's not that simple. Federal rules rightly require transparency and encourage competitive hiring, while White House and Senate considerations can shape and slow more senior appointments. Had the Pentagon announced a new permanent CIO the day Teri Takai resigned, there likely would have been a congressional investigation.
But procedural hurdles are no excuse for failing to plan. How many agencies are prepared to pull off a transition like the General Services Administration's? When Casey Coleman stepped down as CIO, much of GSA was rooting for her deputy, Sonny Hashmi, to take over the job. Hashmi had the qualifications, the internal support and the reputation elsewhere in government to not only offer continuity as acting CIO, but quickly get the green light for the permanent post.
Too often, though, "acting" seems to equal "not an option for the long term," and agencies drift for months or even years without empowered leaders in key posts.
In a 2013 interview with Washington Technology, former Lockheed Martin executive and 2002 Eagle award winner Linda Gooden explained that the company aimed to have two "ready now candidates" for every critical position, as well as a longer-term list of promising up-and-comers.
Can your agency say that? Given the thousands of talented professionals in federal IT and the countless jobs through which they can rotate, is cultivating a short list of ready successors really too much to ask?
Troy K. Schneider is editor-in-chief of FCW and GCN, as well as General Manager of Public Sector 360.
Prior to joining 1105 Media in 2012, Schneider was the New America Foundation’s Director of Media & Technology, and before that was Managing Director for Electronic Publishing at the Atlantic Media Company. The founding editor of NationalJournal.com, Schneider also helped launch the political site PoliticsNow.com in the mid-1990s, and worked on the earliest online efforts of the Los Angeles Times and Newsday. He began his career in print journalism, and has written for a wide range of publications, including The New York Times, WashingtonPost.com, Slate, Politico, National Journal, Governing, and many of the other titles listed above.
Schneider is a graduate of Indiana University, where his emphases were journalism, business and religious studies.
Click here for previous articles by Schneider, or connect with him on Twitter: @troyschneider.