Obama's management agenda stays the course

The fiscal 2015 budget proposal continues the Obama administration's effort to create a more responsive, agile and dynamic government.

Obama and the budget

President Barack Obama's $3.9 trillion budget plan for fiscal 2015 drew less than universal acclaim when it was released in March. But this latest budget blueprint -- the fifth of Obama's presidency -- was not intended to be the foundation for or necessarily even affect the upcoming set of congressional appropriations hearings. Instead, it frames key issues for this fall's Senate and House elections: boosting economic growth, reducing the national debt by raising taxes on the rich, overhauling immigration laws and so on.

As expected, congressional Republicans immediately rejected the budget blueprint. They argued that the proposal would violate the spending limits agreed to only a few months ago by both Congress and the White House. Even in today's partisan era, the reactions were harsh and abrupt. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) called it "perhaps [Obama's] most irresponsible budget yet." Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the president had "opted for the political stunt for a budget."

Even normally supportive figures were unenthusiastic. Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) expressed disappointment in the lack of investment in the National Institutes of Health. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank deemed it a "pro forma budget" in a column titled "A Budget Without Vision."

But optimists, take solace! Look at the third section in the fiscal 2015 budget, titled "Creating a 21st Century Government." (For additional details, see the "Analytical Perspectives" section of the fiscal 2015 budget.) The chapter outlines the president's second-term management agenda:

  • Deliver better, faster, and smarter services to people and businesses. Plans include investing in new approaches to digital services and federal IT to provide a world-class customer service experience.
  • Increase quality and value in core administrative functions to enhance productivity and achieve cost savings. The administration would expand the use of shared services between federal agencies and strategic sourcing to capitalize on the buying power of the government, bringing greater value and efficiency for taxpayer dollars.
  • Open government-funded data and research to the public. The government would continue to open its data and research for public- and private-sector use to spur innovation and job creation while ensuring strong privacy protections.
  • Achieve the full potential for today's federal workforce and build tomorrow's workforce. The budget seeks investments in training, development and recruitment to ensure that the government can attract and retain the best talent and foster a culture of excellence.

One won't note much difference from the first-term agenda, and that is reassuring. Bringing about change in a Fortune One company like the federal government takes time, leadership commitment and continuity. With the economy improving and the prospect of enacting major legislation dim, perhaps the Obama administration can turn to IT and acquisition reform and workforce modernization and management to create a true 21st-century government that is responsive, agile, resilient, flexible, dynamic, more connected, less hierarchical, seamless and transparent.

Those activities might sound boring to some, but you have to get them right to make government exciting, attractive and effective again. As the Post's E.J. Dionne Jr. observed in a recent column: "The greatest obstacle...now is not the anti-government theorizing of the right. It's the dismal view of government performance held by the vast majority of Americans. The antidote is a well-run government."

For us to achieve this goal, governments must place a premium on the skills of orchestration and facilitation. New accountability devices must be developed to match the radically dispersed and collaborative nature of government work. And agencies will need to make their workplaces flatter, more connected and less hierarchical to be more in tune with the values of the talented people we want to attract to the public sector.

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