By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

The Lectern: Remembering life before the fear industry ran the show

Readers of this blog may remember that I have been interviewing a number of senior executives from the Clinton and Bush administrations nominated by fellows of the National Academy of Public Administration and principals of the Council for Excellence in Government as having undertaken important efforts to realize an important vision while in government service. Today, I interviewed another senior Clinton administration agency manager, and the tone was so different from what we hear today, from White House officials and Congress, that I am unable to resist feeling nostalgic. Two things the executive spoke about caught my attention. One was that whenever an agency achievement was being publicly highlighted, White House officials always wanted the agency to be represented in the first instance not by the agency's politically appointed head -- but by a frontline civil servant involved in the effort. Any procurement folks remember Michelle Craddock, the frontline HHS contracting officer who contributed to the legislation language for the government purchase card in the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994 and was invited to the Rose Garden for the bill signing ceremony and acknowledged in President Clinton's remarks? The second was how the executive repeatedly emphasized the importance of supporting career folks who tried something new, even if things didn't work out. He recalled a situation in which, initially, a job redesign employees had developed to improve the way the organization worked initially actually lowered productivity. Although, eventually the redesign raised productivity. Under attack from outside interest groups, the executive publicly defended what the employees had done. "This is huge," the executive reported that a senior career manager told him. "Everyone in the organization will hear that the boss backed up the employees who innovated." Can we expect -- or at least hope -- that a change in the White House would bring us an era where innovation and excellence in government are promoted -- or will Democrats take the easy way out of allying with Washington's fear industry?

Posted by Steve Kelman on Oct 05, 2007 at 12:08 PM


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