It is a truism among observers of the executive branch that every president initiates bold-sounding management reforms (which almost always, in hindsight, look less impressive than they sound). Clinton gave us reinvention, George W. Bush gave us “results” – the list goes on and on. So, there’s little surprise that Obama’s bold talk on management and budgeting has given rise to much speculation about what the administration’s big management idea will look like. Today GovExec.com runs a piece contributing to the speculation, which concludes with some perfectly sensible commentary from Don Kettl:

After 14 governmentwide reform efforts in the past century, there is no obvious big idea or ideological prescription in management reform, said Don Kettl, a political analyst and University of Pennsylvania professor who has written extensively about government reform.

“We have essentially reached the natural, logical end of the strategy of management reform,” Kettl said. “We had a whole series of efforts to empower government employees and to measure the performance of programs and we’ve essentially run out the string … So what we are likely to have, and what we need, is an effort to polish up and burnish the efforts of both previous administrations, but also to think about what the next steps ought to be in a much more creative way.”

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, also writing it today, offers this reading of the signals:

Looking at the last month then, that cult of competency (not bad, eh?) — more so than any grand ideological vision — is the common thread that ties together all of Obama’s picks for his Cabinet and White House senior staff to date.

Competence. Now there’s a truly radical management philosophy.

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