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We’re back at it – now as bureauphile. Check us out here.

So Diligent!

So Diligent!

True, not much activity here as of late, but we’ve been busy writing! Here are two recent papers on appointees:

Dull, Matthew and Patrick S. Roberts, 2009. “Continuity, Competence, and the Succession of Senate-Confirmed Agency Appointees, 1989-2009,” Presidential Studies Quarterly. 39:3 (September): 432-453.

Dull, Matthew M., Roberts, Patrick, Choi, Sang Ok and Keeney, Michael. 2009. “Appointee Confirmation and Tenure: Politics, Policy, and Professionalism in Federal Agency Leadership, 1989-2009”. APSA 2009 Toronto Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN:

“Editing an information release.” United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Washington, D.C. 1937. Part of a series by Farm Security Administration photographer Arthur Rothstein.  Office of War Information Photograph Collection. Library of Congress.


From Congress Daily:

Attorney general orders refresher courses for federal prosecutors
CongressDaily April 15, 2009

In the wake of the botched prosecution of former Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, Attorney General Eric Holder is ordering all federal prosecutors to take a refresher course in their requirements to turn over all evidence to the defense in criminal cases. Failure of prosecutors to give the Stevens defense team key documents led Holder to drop the case April 1…

In the coming week, Holder said “federal prosecutors throughout the department” will get supplemental training in their obligations to give the defense all evidence in criminal cases. Holder set up a working group of senior prosecutors and department officials to review practices in criminal cases. The group will be headed by the assistant attorney general of the criminal division and the chairman of the attorney general’s advisory committee.

Attorney General Holder is emerging as among the most intriguing figures in the Obama cabinet. The legacies of the Bush administration have created an environment favoring Holder’s efforts to revise and reinforce legal professionalism in DOJ. He is a “true believer” and seems intent on (re)infusing a particular set of professional values through the ranks. Unfortunately, from a scholarly perspective, this type of leadership strategy is not particularly well-structured. It seems to me there is room to think more systematically about the interplay between presidents and the variety of professionalisms –  PA, law, accounting, the sciences.

One knock on the Obama administration thus far is that it has not articulated a “management” philosophy – it’s all policy, leaving management in the lurch. History and the heavy hand of the Bush administration’s President’s Management Agenda (PMA) lead observers to expect a big set of administrative principles and priorities. The uncertainty one hears from managers across the agencies could become an important weakness in the administration’s efforts to enact a broad and ambitious set of policy commitments. And, no doubt, the failure of the administration to get many senior positions confirmed and in place has been an exacerbating factor. However, a contrasting perspective emphasizes instead an administrative strategy rooted in a professional as opposed to a managerial logic. (Here I am borrowing Eliot Freidson’s language). Rather than shape bureaucratic behavior through management and planning, a professional logic shapes behavior through  norms, prestige, and professional governance. I’m certain there are many counter-examples, but certainly at DOJ, FEMA, the agencies responsible for science policy – the Obama approach to the agencies seems rooted in a kind of contingent strategy oriented around varieties of professionalism. Naive? Perhaps.

In the Washington Post, the administration takes steps to insulate the use of science:

When President Obama lifts restrictions on funding for human embryonic stem cell research Monday, he will also issue a presidential memorandum aimed at insulating scientific decisions across the federal government from political influence, officials said today.

“The president believes that it’s particularly important to sign this memorandum so that we can put science and technology back at the heart of pursuing a broad range of national goals,” said Melody Barnes, director of Obama’s Domestic Policy Council.

Government Office Workers, 1939

Government Office Workers, 1939

In The Hill, our foray into public advocacy.

Op-ed: How Congress should repair the Vacancies Act
By Patrick Roberts and Matthew Dull

The Vacancies Act is a leaky, 19th-century vessel with a noble purpose: to quickly fill temporary agency leadership positions while maintaining the Senate’s advice and consent role over appointments. Over the past century, however, the act has run aground on an increasingly Byzantine assortment of agencies and presidential attempts at control. Today, the act is untenable. The executive and legislative branches interpret parts of the act differently, resulting in wild variations in compliance across agencies and appointments. Congress needs to plug the act’s holes in order to shore up the integrity of the appointment process by establishing a clear set of rules and transparency.

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I have already voiced some irritation at the proliferation of “czars” filling up the new administration – it’s a topic of much commentary around the web (here and here). The complaint is partially aesthetic (a czar?), but The Post today carries a piece summarizing the very real strategic risks. In areas like environmental and health policy, the Obama team recognizes the demand for constant White House attention in order to push presidential priorities through the tangle of agencies and interest groups.

Though, much to his credit, the president-elect seems willing and capable of managing an enormous amount of information, the “envoy” strategy also acknowledges the limitations on Obama’s time and attention. By appointing so many heavyweights and giving them proximity to the Oval Office, Obama signals his willingness to share power and some the limelight. It certainly looks like an attempt to learn from history, and I’m sure it is. Longtime observer Calvin Mackenzie rightly calls the extent to which Obama has used the strategy of formally assigning White House positions “unprecedented” in recent presidencies. But history also points to the risks. The Post quotes Thomas J. Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce: “We’re going to have so many czars…It’s going to be a lot of fun, seeing the czars and the regulators and the czars and the Cabinet secretaries debate.”

This week Brookings held a panel on Don Kettl’s new book The Next Government of the United States. Moderated by Bill Galston, the panel included comments from two long-time management reform heavies former Clinton NPR director Elaine Karmack, who has written a review of Kettl’s book for the American Prospect, and Jonathan Breul, longtime OMB SES’er now with the IBM Center. I haven’t read the book yet, but it’s a set of ideas Kettl has been thinking about for several years – as he says the government we have is not a good fit for many of the problems we want to address. It was also, in part, the focus of his 2008 Gaus Lecture at the American Political Science Association meeting in Boston. Big ideas, but I was  struck by one detail in particular. Given all the talk about change in the American political system, the emphasis on measuring the performance of public policies and organizations is essentially unchanged. All four of panel members and a handful of audience questions returned to familiar themes: the measurement imperative, promise of public sector performance, and dissatisfaction with the quality of public sector performance measures. This is a pattern reflected in the language of the Obama transition as well. You’d be hard-pressed to find an issue on which Barack Obama sounds more like George W. Bush (or, indeed, just about any late 20th Century American president) than when he talks about going “line-by-line” through the budget and eliminating programs that don’t work. The Obama administration will enjoy some distinct advantages, but the track record is not promising.

View of Mall from doorway of Department of Agriculture.
Photographer: Horydczak, Theodor.

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