Creating an Agenda for Transformation; Government Decision Makers Discuss "Change" and Its Associated Drivers: Policy, Leadership, the Workforce, Private-Sector Partnerships, and Technology

By Kern, Suzette; Tucker, Letitia J. | The Public Manager, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Creating an Agenda for Transformation; Government Decision Makers Discuss "Change" and Its Associated Drivers: Policy, Leadership, the Workforce, Private-Sector Partnerships, and Technology


Kern, Suzette, Tucker, Letitia J., The Public Manager


In May, the National Capital Area Chapter (NCAC) of the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA)--the association's largest chapter--held its annual conference at The George Washington University. NCAC had not held such a conference for a few years and as the current (Suzette Kern) and incoming (Letitia J. Tucker) presidents, we wanted to reestablish the chapter as a forum for policy discussion and debate. We also hoped to surface a few issues that could serve as the focus or theme for the monthly meetings we hold during the year. This year's conference theme, "Partnering for Change: Creating an Agenda for Transformation," brought together senior-level decision makers from federal, state, and local government; academia; and the nonprofit and private sectors.

The opening evening session and the following morning's program were designed to set the foundation for discussion. All the presentations were organized around the notion of "change" and associated drivers: policy, leadership, the workforce, private-sector partnerships, and technology.

The President's Management Agenda

On the evening of May 10, Robert J. Shea, counselor to the deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), gave an overview of The President's Management Agenda. At OMB, Mr. Shea is in charge of the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART), which has joined the list of great management acronyms from the past like MBO, ZBB, PPBS, and GPRA, to name just a few.

Mr. Shea discussed his experience at OMB after spending most of his career on Capitol Hill. Giving a brief overview of previous efforts to reform federal management, he noted that a cottage industry had grown up in Washington built on the goal of improving government. "What would we do," he asked, "if we ever actually fixed it?" The Founding Fathers really did not design our structure to be an efficient government. But today, we have the Government Accountability Office, Offices of Inspector General, the Congressional Budget Office, and OMB all performing governmental oversight and "helping" to make government more efficient and effective.

Citizens deserve a results-oriented government, Shea said, and indicated that Clay Johnson, OMB's deputy director for management, had held focus groups around government to talk with federal employees about The President's Management Agenda. Asking employees about "making a difference" turned out to be viewed almost as offensive since they had come to public service in the first place to make a difference. So we have changed, Shea said, describing some of the successes at agencies such as the Social Security Administration, Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Corps of Engineers, and others. He outlined what has been accomplished injecting performance issues into budget discussions in agencies, OMB, and Congress. He also described policy executives' interest in the scorecard and agency gradings and their desire to "get to green." While one cannot remove politics from the equation totally, the goal is to make performance more of a factor in decision making and to focus on some key questions: Is the purpose of the program clear? Are meaningful and objective measures in place? Is the program well managed?

A very lively and interactive question and answer session followed, and a number of attendees continued the dialogue over coffee and dessert.

Leadership and Change

On Monday morning the day began with a session on "Leadership and Change," moderated by Timothy Clark, editor of Government Executive magazine, along with three panelists:

* Dr. Katherine Gebbie

Director, Physics Laboratory

National Institute of Standards and Technology

* Mr. Stephen McHale

Deputy Administrator

Transportation Security Administration

* Dr. Daniel Weinberg

Chief, Housing and Household

Economic Statistics Division

Bureau of the Census.

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