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FCW Insider: Does Bush's SOTU speech matter?

President Bush will offer up his final State of the Union address tonight, but I'm curious -- do you care? And does it matter?

The Washington Post leads today with a report on what the president will say. The story doesn't focus on our stuff, of course, but... it does focus on how Bush gets anything done:

The president may be better positioned to win reauthorization of existing initiatives he will discuss tonight, such as his program to permit wireless surveillance of suspected terrorists and his ambitious accountability system for the nation's public schools. Aides are also promising modest changes in areas such as housing, health care and Bush's "faith-based" program to assist religious social service organizations, but they concede that the domestic reforms he once sought for immigration and Social Security are out of reach.

"It is unrealistic to expect that this Congress is going to take on such big problems this year," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, who suggested that Bush will not offer a retrospective assessment of his legacy. "He does feel that he's given his all the first seven years, and that in this eighth year, that 12 months is a long time to be able to get a lot of things done."

In the first issue of Federal Computer Week, we looked at how the administration focuses on policy/management/technology issues in its final year... and they specifically not focused on new programs but instead are focusing on locking in existing initiatives.

Mort Downey, former deputy secretary of the Transportation Department in the Clinton administration, said he made a mistake his final year in office. That mistake has become a lesson that senior political leaders often retell as they ponder their own fate in the waning months of an administration.

Downey said he tried unsuccessfully to push through new policies for highway and transit planning and revamp safety regulations for overseas aircraft repair stations.

In hindsight, he would have taken a different tack, he said.

Downey, who is now chairman at PB Consult, a management consulting firm, said political officials in the Bush administration should heed the lesson he learned the hard way. “We wanted to leave a legacy and nail down policy changes. In almost every case, we ran out of time. The safety regulations died on the secretary’s desk Jan. 20.”

Downey added that in the final year of any administration, it is better to continue on a path that has been laid rather than launch new initiatives. “The challenge is to build a platform for continuity,” he said. “It is not time to do radical change or go in a new policy direction.”

Clay Johnson, deputy director of management at the Office of Management and Budget, said he plans to do exactly what Downey recommends. Every OMB initiative has been about improving agency management, he said, and the next 12 months will be no different.

OMB intends to spend that time “tackling the next phase of something that we maybe teed up three or four years ago,” Johnson said.

One thing will be different in the next 12 months. OMB will rely mostly on career employees to advance the management initiatives that President Bush introduced early in his first term.

“What we’d rather do is focus, not the politicals, but on what the career employees of the federal government can be accountable for,” Johnson said.

Read their own words here.

It is going to be an interesting year. I continue to believe that the best way to motivate people is to focus on issues and programs. Feds particularly want to make a difference, and so they need something in particular that they can focus on. The simple fact of the matter is that the day are numbered for terms of "President's Management Agenda" and "lines of business" -- and many others. The concepts may survive -- and I would put the emphasis on "may." Remember the National Performance Review? That being said, the Clinton administration was successful in laying the framework that the Bush administration was able to use to further its goals. But they also did some innovative things such as launching theFirstGov governmentwide Web portal, which has become USA.gov. And it is why I have urged the Bush administration to focus on these Government 2.0 issues, which I think will have legs long after they leave office.

So... we'll watch tonight -- and we'll have a story online if there is something that involves our world, but... does it matter? Love to hear your thoughts...

Posted by Christopher J. Dorobek on Jan 28, 2008 at 12:17 PM


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