Writing in the Washington Post (11/19/08), Paul Light is succinct as always offering the following three step prescription for restoring the federal service:

“First, Obama should speak directly to all 1.8 million federal employees about the need for action. George W. Bush mostly ignored the federal service. He made dozens of speeches to uniformed officers involved in the war on terrorism but never asked for sacrifice from federal employees as a whole. Interviewed in 2002, 65 percent of Defense Department civil servants said they felt a new sense of urgency after Sept. 11, 2001, while 35 percent of their colleagues in the domestic departments agreed.

Second, Obama should cut the number of political appointments at the top of government. He has promised to cut middle managers but needs to remember that between a quarter and two-fifths of the stultifying management layers in government are occupied by political appointees, including more than 2,000 that he will appoint without Senate confirmation. There are plenty of career senior executives who could fill these positions. Doing so would signal that bloat is bloat, even at the top of government.

Third, Obama should ask Congress for authority to hire at least 100,000 front-line servants for beleaguered agencies that no longer have enough staff to handle their responsibilities. The Food and Drug Administration needs enough inspectors to intercept counterfeit drugs and tainted produce; the Social Security Administration needs enough representatives to handle the surge in disability claims; the Internal Revenue Service needs enough agents to collect more than $300 billion in delinquent taxes. And they are hardly alone. Name a front-line agency — such as the Veterans Benefits Administration — and the shortages are palpable. They need new employees and fast.”

Also, the Washington Post’s Carol Leonnig, “Reviving a Dispirited Workforce” (11/17/08) examines claims of politicization in several agencies. She notes:

“In May, eight months before Bush was to leave the White House, half the administration’s top 250 political positions were vacant or filled by temporary appointees. The jobs left in limbo at that early stage included five of the seven senior Justice Department positions, two deputy secretary jobs at HUD overseeing public housing and community development, and a position of senior adviser to the Treasury secretary on economic policy.”

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