Americans are deeply divided when it comes to President Trump’s policies, but his administration’s early emphasis on solving long-standing problems with government effectiveness, responsiveness and accountability should be something that citizens can embrace.
The White House Office of American Innovation, the American Technology Council and the executive order to reorganize the government hold the potential to bring in new ideas from the private sector, improve service delivery and provide career employees with a chance to be more productive.
Whether any of these ideas become a reality will depend on presidentially appointed deputy secretaries—the chief operating officers— as well as other political appointees and experienced agency career executives and managers.
With the slow pace of presidential nominations, many agencies have relied on those career leaders to develop their initial reorganization proposals recently submitted to the Office of Management and Budget. And it will be those career executives and managers who ultimately will be responsible for the day-to-day work of implementing the changes.
In an effort to help these leaders tackle the reorganization and a long management to-do list, the Partnership for Public Service and Booz Allen Hamilton produced a report – “Mission Possible: How chief operating officers can make government more effective” – that shares management insights from more than 30 former chief operating officers, senior federal executives and private-sector leaders.
The report suggests that chief operating officers and other political leaders create performance plans to hold themselves accountable for the reorganization and broader agency management goals. Of course, performance plans should not be confined to the top of the house, but should cascade throughout the organization to include career senior executives and other managers.
At the same time, it is crucial for the chief operating officers, the other political appointees and the career leaders to work together as a team, and that those directly responsible for implementing the changes have the necessary backing and the capacity to do their jobs. Responsibility and accountability are fine, but will not mean very much without true authority.
As the reorganization plans progress during the next year or two, leaders need to keep their ears to the ground, conferring with those on the frontlines to understand how the changes are playing out. This information should be discussed during periodic meetings of political and career leaders to evaluate progress, review the good and the bad news, and make needed adjustments.
It also is incumbent on agency leaders to communicate with the workforce about the reorganization plans, its goals and progress, and for the leadership to guide employees through what could be major shifts in agency makeup and operations.
The path ahead will not be easy. It could lead to workforce reductions in some agencies, scrapping some activities, merging functions, realigning executive authority or using technology in new and different ways. The changes no doubt will disrupt the status quo at some agencies and consume enormous time and energy.
The opportunity exists to improve the delivery of government services to the public as well as to reduce inefficiencies and red tape. In the end, the key to success will not just be the merit of the plans, but the commitment, management and people skills of the senior career and political leaders responsible for implementing those plans
Tom Fox, a guest writer for On Leadership, is the vice president for leadership and innovation at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service.