The Obama Management Agenda: Five Steps toward Transformation: Our 44th President Has Started Down a Path to Reshape Public Services

By Balutis, Alan P. | The Public Manager, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

The Obama Management Agenda: Five Steps toward Transformation: Our 44th President Has Started Down a Path to Reshape Public Services


Balutis, Alan P., The Public Manager


In the Spring 2008 Special Issue of The Public Manager, nearly 20 current and former government executives, academicians, and private and nonprofit sector leaders outlined a management agenda for the incoming 44th President of the United States. Those authors were part of a luncheon seminar series in 2007 and 2008 organized by Cisco's Business Solutions Group, the company's global consulting arm.

In that issue, the authors outlined where and how our next government should differ. The ideas were grouped into four categories: human resources (HR), acquisition, technology, and execution. Together, they began to de-scribe a new model of government. There was no reason, they argued then, that "government cannot operate with as much speed, responsiveness, and resiliency as the private sector. In fact, there is no reason government should not be the leader when it comes to technology adoption, human capital management, and service delivery."

The articles also discussed how the government should go about accomplishing a transformation; what the president and executive management team should do differently; as well as the topics that deserved their attention early in the first term.

It's been one year since a healthy majority of American voters elected Barack Obama to change America. Within his first few months in office, President Obama signed the largest economic recovery package in a generation and significantly boosted government assistance to banks and auto manufactures. His administration has augmented the role of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, has moved to categorically renounce torture and set a deadline for closing the Guantanamo prison, and is working to withdraw combat troops from Iraq. The president nominated the first Hispanic to the Supreme Court, accepted the scientific consensus on climate change, and invested in "green" jobs and a "smart" grid. Finally, his administration is working on healthcare reform. Indeed, Obama is addressing the major issues facing Americans--and he received a Nobel Peace Prize, too.

At the time of publication, the president will have been in office for approximately one year. So we reassembled almost all the original contributors--and added just a few new ones--and asked them to assess the Obama Management Agenda.

The Management Agenda In the opening article of the Spring 2008 Special Issue, Professor Donald F. Kettl argued that never before have we so badly needed new and big ideas on government management and never before have we so badly needed strong managers and leaders in government.

He wrote: "No self respecting president can enter office without a management plan ... A management plan ... conveys important signals to key players. The federal executive branch's 2.6 million employees look for clues about where the new boss will take them. Private consultants tune their radar in search of new opportunities. More importantly, those who follow the broad strategies of government management seek to devise how the new president will approach the job of chief executive, where priorities will lie, and what tactics the president will follow in pursuing them. Management matters--with each new administration, the fresh question is how?"

The signals on how management mattered came early. In his inaugural address, President Obama said, "The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works." He added, "And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government."

The very next day, his first full day in office, the president's earliest directive was a Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies on "Transparency and Open Government." Obama stated on January 21, 2009:

* government should be transparent

* government should be participatory

* government should be collaborative. …

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