Leadership Challenges Facing Today's Federal Managers: The FEIAA's Recent Executive Forum Shared Best Practices in Human Capital Management, Financial Management, Competitive Sourcing, Change Management, and Leading across Generations

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The Federal Executive Institute Alumni Association (FEIAA), the premier organization for graduates of the Federal Executive Institute (FEI), held its annual executive forum March 8 and 9. The theme was "Leadership Challenges Facing Today's Federal Managers." This forum offered public managers a rare opportunity to learn techniques and tools for dealing with a broad spectrum of today's leadership challenges, including human capital management, financial management, competitive sourcing, change management, and leading across generations. The sections that follow summarize what the speakers had to say. (Some speakers' notes are posted on the FEIAA Web site at www.feiaa.org. Click "2006 Executive Forum Presentation.")

Deficit Budgets

Comptroller General David Walker was the first day's keynote speaker. He described the federal budget as being on "autopilot," with a rapidly growing federal deficit that is unsustainable. Much of this deficit comes from decisions made in the 1940s through 1960s. For lack of outcome measures, we don't even know whether the programs that the deficit finances work. The Department of Defense (DoD), he said, is in dire need of someone at the top with good management skills to look at how the department spends money. We must create organizational excellence regardless of the political party in charge. Overall, Mr. Walker argued that the federal government is on an unsustainable course. We too often start by throwing money at a problem without really analyzing it. We spend $3 trillion a year, yet keep adding tax cuts. Agencies need to work with Congress to create more effective statutory requirements for agency programs.

Presidential Roller Coaster

Political analyst for the National Journal Group, Charlie Cook was the keynote speaker on the second day. He described President Bush as being on a roller coaster since he was reelected only fourteen months ago. Social Security, gas prices, and the war in Iraq have all contributed to Bush's dropping popularity. The problem now, he said, is that Bush has lost the political clout to get anything done. Mr. Cook said that administrations seem to run out of gas in the second term when the people are tired, problems come home to roost, and presidents become isolated. At the same time, 85 percent of senators and 97 percent of representatives get reelected. Control of the Congress is unlikely to shift from Republicans to Democrats in the 2006 election. Everyone knows that we need to rotate the crops every few years, particularly the president, but the out-party needs to present a nonthreatening candidate. It's not clear whether the Democrats can do that in 2008.

Online Distance Learning

A panel of three speakers--William Draves, President of the Learning Resources Network; Timothy Spangler, Director of the Cooperative Program for Operational Meteorology, Education and Training; and Tom Seivert, an operational manager at the National Security Agency--discussed new ways of online distance learning. They emphasized that learning systems must engage learners and tell them why they need to learn the information being taught. Learning systems must allow learners to explore and experiment with data. They must use well-known experts in the presentation and call attention to superior performance. The speakers explained that each generation receives distance learning differently, but that Generation X and Generation Y are more open to it. Each generation needs to be welcomed to online learning differently. Online gaming has become an excellent way of learning for the younger generations. Participants need an interactive network to keep online learning alive.

To understand the importance of online learning today, Mr. Draves recommended reading his book, Nine Shift: Work, life and education in the 21st century. The book notes that from 1900 to 1920, 75 percent of how we do work changed. Similarly, he argues, from 2000 to 2020, nine of twelve hours will be spent differently than in the past. …