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Archive: Federal government leadership

The fog of government: What to do about bureaucratic overlap

"This report will make us look like jackasses," Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla) said in advance of the release. He was right.

By Paul Light | March 3, 2011; 09:22 AM ET | Comments (9)

Mark Warner to the budget rescue

Virginia's Democratic Senator Mark Warner has emerged over the past week as the most important referee in the budget battle between House Republicans and President Barack Obama. As a rising star on the Senate Budget Committee, Warner actually believes Congress and the president should take on big programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, taxes and defense spending.

By Paul Light | February 24, 2011; 03:52 PM ET | Comments (29)

The best idea in Obama's budget (Hint: It's not a cut)

If done well, social impact bonds may be the best idea to come along for improving performance in decades. Obama deserves credit for bringing it forward. Soon it will be up to private investors to put their money in play.

By Paul Light | February 18, 2011; 01:02 PM ET | Comments (11)

Obama's and Boehner's Lilliputian budget cuts

At least for now, Boehner and Obama seem content to target discretionary spending alone. Doing so will mark them forever as Lilliputians and leave the nation in complacent comfort that Social Security and Medicare will remain off limits. It is a cowardly decision and should be called out as such.

By Paul Light | February 11, 2011; 11:36 AM ET | Comments (57)

Obama finally says 'reorganize', now the hard part

If defined broadly and done well, Obama's reorganization could create a thinner, more efficient government that can actually implement the many other promises Obama made. He was right to put reorganization on the agenda. Now he must make the overhaul big enough to both trim the budget and improve the faithful execution of the laws. Most importantly, Obama is now in the game.

By Paul Light | January 27, 2011; 11:20 AM ET | Comments (14)

Government Reform: Business unusual in Washington

The federal government desperately needs the same kind of overhaul today. But it cannot be done with a heavy dose of angry rhetoric. Just as Americans want an end to business-as-usual in politics, they also want the federal government to do its job at the lowest cost and highest efficiency. Americans have been watching government rust for 60 years now. It is time for Democrats and Republicans to drop the gloves and start drafting big-ticket reform.

By Paul Light | January 21, 2011; 04:42 PM ET | Comments (5)

Time to give GAO a big job

Now that Dodaro is in charge, he ought think hard about what GAO might do to be a more aggressive player in reshaping the federal bureaucracy. With Congress and the president searching for ways to cooperate, GAO could be the swing player in actual progress.

By Paul Light | January 13, 2011; 04:48 PM ET | Comments (0)

The problem with our presidential appointment process

Congress and the Obama administration are both to blame for the slowdown. Senators have no shame holding nominees on stalled pet projects and trivial issues such as taking home-office deductions. The threshold for holds has dropped to new lows.

By Paul Light | January 6, 2011; 12:37 PM ET | Comments (2)

Government performance act passed, and it's high time

The Senate approved the upgrade last week by unanimous consent, leaving the House to act on Tuesday in the final seconds before heading home for the holidays. They did. And though the bill won't make anyone's top ten list for management reforms of the past 100 years, it does signal potential consensus on the need to hold the federal government accountable for what works and what doesn't.

By Paul Light | December 21, 2010; 07:28 PM ET | Comments (11)

What the next round of federal cuts should look like

Under this more nuanced approach, federal employment just might remain at its current 2.1 million mark, and could even go higher. However, headcount is not the key measure of success. Not only would the personnel budget almost certainly fall, the public would receive much better service. Backlogs would fall, regulations would be enforced, inspections would rise and the public would regain a measure of confidence that the federal government is spending its money wisely to honor the promises it makes.

By Paul Light | December 14, 2010; 09:45 AM ET | Comments (40)

Strengthening the inspectors general

If Issa wants the offices to identify poorly performing programs, he should take a hard look at the IGs and their offices first. He also should talk to Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) for sure--she engineered a major bill last year to strengthen IG independence. But the offices will need more staff and a good dose of courage to do the new job, which should include more aggressive reviews of the tepid measures that most agencies use to judge performance. He also might start with a serious winnowing of the current cadre of IGs. Some were appointed solely for the campaign experience, and others for their compliance. He should target them for exit, and empower the rest.

By Paul Light | December 2, 2010; 10:27 AM ET | Comments (12)

Want to actually trim government bloat? Start with the hidden workforce

Poor leadership is no doubt partially to blame, but so is the bureaucratic sloth, the hyper-inflated performance appraisal process, the absence of encouragement to break the mold and innovate, and the failed disciplinary system that keeps poor performers on the job long after they should have been fired. There is nothing quite so demoralizing to high performers than sitting next to clock-watchers who long ago forgot the public purpose that should motivate them to action.

By Paul Light | November 19, 2010; 09:44 AM ET | Comments (25)

Truman-up, Mr. President: The federal debt stops here

Obama is worn down, perplexed and seemingly determined to reject the dismal message from the midterm disaster. He is also moving quickly to throw the debt issue under the snowplow. He should reconsider. He should embrace the call for action, explain the need for reform to a skeptical public and bet his presidency on the result. That's what presidential leadership is about.

By Paul Light | November 11, 2010; 03:09 PM ET | Comments (7)

Darrell Issa's chance to make his mark on government oversight

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) is now poised to become chairman of the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee. As chairman of the most powerful oversight committee in the new Republican House, Issa will have enormous power to set the agenda for both monitoring government and changing it. ssa is right to mount an aggressive oversight agenda--that's his committee's responsibility, and has been for decades. But just what kind of oversight will he do and will it lead to real government reform?

By Paul Light | November 4, 2010; 03:43 PM ET | Comments (26)

The 'polargeists' are coming--now what?

Washington is set for the arrival of a vast new class of Democratic and Republican "polargeists" who will create even more of the clanking disruption of recent political polarization. They're not so much "baaaack," as the little girl said in Poltergeist II, but they're going to invade Washington en masse. The polargeist cause will be big and bad. The midterm election may yet swing a bit back toward the Democrats, but Republicans are poised to retake the House and will almost certainly occupy a majority of the governorships that will play such a significant role in the congressional redistricting based on the 2010 census. Polarization will reign supreme on issue after issue as the two parties prepare for a electoral cage match in 2012.

By Paul Light | October 28, 2010; 02:03 PM ET | Comments (4)

The silver lining in a partisan hurricane

Democrats are reeling these days as they confront an electoral disaster. Republicans clearly have what former President George H.W. Bush called "big mo" and are poised to retake the House and capture the overwhelming majority of governorships. With redistricting on the agenda across the country next year, the governorships may give Republicans a lock on the House for the next decade. Democrats have yet to find a theme that might help them close what the so-called "enthusiasm gap." They have been easily branded as the protectors of big, bad government. Armed with unprecedented amounts of hidden money, Republicans have turned the election into a referendum on the federal bureaucracy. And they are winning.

By Paul Light | October 21, 2010; 01:32 PM ET | Comments (13)

Biden's mission impossible

Vice President Joe Biden has one of the toughest choices in politics today. He can either stand aloof from his party's campaign collapse, or pick up the hatchet and join past vice presidents as the slasher-in-chief. If he picks up the hatchet and wields it skillfully, as so many other vice presidents have, he'll stay on the ticket in 2012. If he fails to mount a credible defense of the endangered Democratic House majority, he just might end up on the waiver list.

By Paul Light | October 7, 2010; 07:39 PM ET | Comments (45)

What a real 'pledge to America' would look like

Republicans clearly understand that Americans don't trust the federal government, but have misread the underlying cause. Americans are not saying they want to slash government at all. They are saying make government work. Americans want more of virtually everything the federal government delivers, but are convinced the bureaucracy is rife with inefficiency. They want government to raise the bar on performance, not eviscerate the workforce or jettison programs that protect the public from the abuses that sparked the economic catastrophe in the first place.

By Paul Light | September 23, 2010; 07:36 PM ET | Comments (24)

Senior Executive Service: The key to real reform

The President's Office of Management and Budget is trying hard to engage the federal government 8,000 senior executives in fixing the federal bureaucracy. The deputy director of OMB sent a thirteen-page memo to members of the Senior Executive Service (SES) this week outlining its agenda for reform. The memo was gentle but strong. It called on the SESers to do their part in pushing reform. If they don't buy into the administration's effort, there is virtually no chance that the agenda will succeed.

By Paul Light | September 15, 2010; 11:29 AM ET | Comments (1)

How to teach excellence in public service

All of us are professors to some extent, of course. Executives, managers, and colleagues all have an obligation to teach. We also have an obligation to faithfully execute the laws, even the ones we detest. We don't have a choice. President George W. Bush issued more signing statements than any president in history, refusing to execute pieces of the laws he was signing. But public servants don't have that choice. They must either execute the laws, change them, or leave. Every course on public service should start with a quick review of the constitution. It is often ignored as the governing framework for making a difference.

By Paul Light | September 8, 2010; 08:56 AM ET | Comments (0)

Why Democrats are scared of government reform

Big government has become the big issue on the campaign trail as Republicans look for ways of tying the sluggish economy to the Democrats. Yet, Democrats have yet to answer. Their rhetoric about fixing government is tepid at best, nonexistent at worst. They seem terrified to take on the drumbeat of Republican promises for hiring and pay freezes and wholesale dismantling of government agencies.

By Paul Light | August 25, 2010; 09:23 AM ET | Comments (40)

Stonewalling at the Social Innovation Fund

SIF's general behavior over the past weeks has been nothing short of weak and non-responsive itself. The longer SIF keeps its records closed, the more the controversy will build. Pity SIF when this one reaches Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA). They will have a field day on what didn't work at the Social Innovation Fund. It should not take a congressional investigation or a Freedom of Information Act petition to get this information. SIF would be well advised to release everything now.

By Paul Light | August 18, 2010; 02:11 PM ET | Comments (28)

Budget cuts at DOD: Gates to the rescue

Defense Secretary Robert Gates deserves the courage award for last week's announcement that he would cut his departments workforce, streamline the hierarchy, and close a popular base in Virginia. He is the first senior Obama administration officer to use his statutory authority to take a first step toward the big-ticket reform that will produce higher performance and productivity.

By Paul Light | August 11, 2010; 10:17 AM ET | Comments (0)

Trimming government bureaucracy: It's the service, stupid

President Barack Obama made another important step toward improving federal management this week when he froze presidential appointee bonuses and cash awards. Although he stopped short of demanding a statutory ban on these inappropriate rewards, he did acknowledge the public's outrage during a time of economic stress and Wall Street excess. However, Obama did not go far enough. Despite a long list of recent proposals for trimming government spending and improving organizational performance, the administration's agenda agenda is long, but still falls short of the comprehensive reform Americans want.

By Paul Light | August 4, 2010; 11:25 AM ET | Comments (7)

Financial reform czar: Three skills she'll need to succeed

The first director of the newly created Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection will have one of the toughest jobs in government and will need a set of skills especially difficult to find among presidential appointees.

By Paul Light | July 29, 2010; 06:48 AM ET | Comments (4)

Channeling Hamilton

As Alexander Hamilton wrote, 'The true test of a good government is its aptitude and tendency to produce a good administration.' Using that measure, the just-released results of the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey show a government in trouble.

By Paul Light | July 15, 2010; 06:49 AM ET | Comments (5)

An Open Memo to the Feds

While much is being done to cut costs, little has been proposed to tackle the mounting problems of the federal bureaucracy. When political wrangling leaves top posts empty and employees are overworked and understaffed, how can government work?

By Paul Light | July 7, 2010; 11:06 AM ET | Comments (3)

Finally, a government that shops at Costco

The federal government has announced it will, at last, buy in bulk. Why is government so slow to change? One answer is that government leaders do not care much for the mundane aspects of running efficient programs. Sen. Claire McCaskill may be our only hope.

By Paul Light | June 30, 2010; 06:19 AM ET | Comments (7)

Why David Walker should replace Peter Orszag at OMB

David Walker, now head of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, made plenty of enemies in Washington for his strong stands on the budget deficit, but also led an agency with enormous credibility on management. He should be the next director of the federal government's OMB.

By Paul Light | June 23, 2010; 06:19 AM ET | Comments (10)

Peter Orszag: Putting the 'M' back in OMB

Outlining his aggressive agenda this week to cut federal waste, Peter Orszag is showing courageous leadership -- and is a harbinger of a much more productive bureaucracy.

By Paul Light | June 9, 2010; 10:33 AM ET | Comments (5)

Nuclear option for the Recruiter-in-Chief

To fill all his appointments, Obama needs a nuclear option: If a post cannot be filled in six months, it should be abolished as a presidential appointment and filled by a member of the career Senior Executive Service.

By Paul Light | May 27, 2010; 06:22 AM ET | Comments (4)

The leadership problem Obama's hiring initiave won't solve

Obama's challenge in his new hiring initiative is not just recruiting the federal government's future leaders, but motivating, training, retaining, and advancing them.

By Paul Light | May 20, 2010; 06:08 AM ET | Comments (15)

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