By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

Take the pledge: 'I will care about management!'

pledge_man with hand over heart

Two presidents in a row have had their administrations badly wounded by problems with government management: George W. Bush with Hurricane Katrina and Barack Obama with the HealthCare.gov rollout.

Those fiascos are not just bad for presidents, they are bad for America. Only extremist anti-government ideologues can welcome the humiliation our country suffers because of those failures.

There are many talented political executives and senior civil service managers in the federal government who are improving the performance of their agencies. But those efforts are mercilessly swept away like a child's sand castle overwhelmed by a giant wave.

Even important government performance improvements, such as the reduction of backlogs at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office or the progress many agencies have made in reducing improper payments, leave no trace in the public consciousness.

Management is boring, especially for politicians for whom focusing on reports about operational tests for a technology application -- even one as important to Obama as the HealthCare.gov website -- is an unnatural act.

Now, however, we might need to demand that politicians be saved from themselves.

Obviously, presidents cannot and should not manage the entire government. But there is a chasm between that extreme and the current situation. What can Obama proactively do now, and what should his successors do in the future?

I think presidents should have a list, which would obviously change over time, of five hot-button issues for which successful management is important to political and substantive success and that have a high risk of creating big problems for the president.

It is impossible, of course, to predict perfectly which problems will gain media and public traction. But it is a good guess that one issue on any president's list should be the Federal Emergency Management Agency because of the guaranteed high visibility of major natural disasters that are mishandled. And given the importance of health care reform to both Obama and his opponents, it should hardly have taken a rocket scientist to see that management issues with the rollout would be on that list as well.

For those key projects, a president should get regular briefings -- maybe once a month or more often if needed -- on overall status, trouble spots and decision alternatives. I feel confident that developing and following up on such a list would reduce the number of government management fiascos.

What else could Obama do? His administration already has a list of high-priority performance goals, with several for each Cabinet department. Those goals are being tracked by departmental deputy secretaries and the Office of Management and Budget, and key officials get together on a regular basis to discuss progress, obstacles and lessons learned.

It would be a powerful statement of concern about improving the performance of the federal government for the president to choose two or three of those priority goals and become directly involved in the ongoing conversation.

The next election is three years away. A group of distinguished citizens who care about the country and the performance of the government -- some corporate CEOs, university presidents and retired senior journalists perhaps -- could get together to formally focus on that issue. They could ask each of the candidates to take a pledge to pay attention to the management of the federal government and explain how, as president, he or she would demonstrate that concern.

That would be one way to improve the country on which both parties could agree.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Dec 20, 2013 at 1:26 PM


Featured

  • Contracting
    8 prototypes of the border walls as tweeted by CBP San Diego

    DHS contractors face protests – on the streets

    Tech companies are facing protests internally from workers and externally from activists about doing for government amid controversial policies like "zero tolerance" for illegal immigration.

  • Workforce
    By Mark Van Scyoc Royalty-free stock photo ID: 285175268

    At OPM, Weichert pushes direct hire, pay agent changes

    Margaret Weichert, now acting director of the Office of Personnel Management, is clearing agencies to make direct hires in IT, cyber and other tech fields and is changing pay for specialized occupations.

  • Cloud
    Shutterstock ID ID: 222190471 By wk1003mike

    IBM protests JEDI cloud deal

    As the deadline to submit bids on the Pentagon's $10 billion, 10-year warfighter cloud deal draws near, IBM announced a legal protest.

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.