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Get ready for a leadership vacuum

The coming departure of Dan Gordon from the Office of Federal Procurement Policy has provoked an interesting set of reactions.

On the one hand are the expected, and deserved, words of praise. As OFPP administrator, Gordon accomplished a lot in his two years, and people who worked closely with him or are affected by his initiatives are right to call attention to those successes.

But on the other hand, Gordon will be yet another agency leader to head for greener pastures after a short tenure, and as former deputy OFPP administrator Robert Burton pointed out, that's disruptive to agency employees.

And it's not enough time to really make the kind of difference that's properly called a legacy.

But it's become common in government. Vivek Kundra was federal CIO for just a bit more than two years, from March 2009 to August 2011. And Steve Kelman, who served as OFPP administrator for four years ending in 1997, was the last person to hold that position for more than about two years.

This matters as we enter the next presidential election year because that's a traditional time for presidentially appointed leaders to leave. If the incumbent loses, of course, all of his appointees will resign. But even when the incumbent wins a second term, it's common for many or most of the appointees to move on as the new term starts.

The practical effect of these transition points is that real agency leadership falls in many ways to senior career feds. But they are charged with carrying out the policy directives of the administration, as enacted at each agency by the appointed agency head. Career feds really aren't empowered to set a vision for an agency.

So in addition to tension about diminishing budgets, add uncertainty over continuity of leadership to the agenda for 2012. It's going to be a difficult year in some significant ways.

Posted by Michael Hardy on Nov 04, 2011 at 12:18 PM


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