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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.

Government Office Workers, 1939

Government Office Workers, 1939

Dec 1941. Photo: John Collier, Farm Security Administration.
The description says these are workers for the foreign liaison bureau of the office of lend-lease administration working temporarily in a converted Washington, DC apartment building.

John D. Donahue of Harvard’s Kennedy School and Max Stier CEO of the Partnership for Public Service have a good piece in the Washington Monthly on rebuilding federal agency capacity. Their to do list:

Appoint managers. Not cronies. Not ideological soul mates. Not campaign stalwarts. Not even inspiring symbols, or soaring intellects, or wise old men and women. Nice if you can get those attributes as part of the package, of course. But the taste and talent for actually getting things done has to be the central criterion for senior hires… Read the rest of this entry »

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 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.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Monkey Cage points to this Wall Street Journal graphic.

Wall Street Journal

Source: Wall Street Journal

Paul Musgrave offers a spirited defense of political patronage:

What the executive branch needs is more patronage, not less….Despite all of the talk of the resurgence of the imperial presidency, contemporary presidents actually have surprisingly modest powers when it comes to staffing the government. For most of American history, presidents enjoyed much greater power to hire and fire federal employees, from Cabinet secretaries to rural postmasters. True, many of those officials were subject to Senate confirmation, and the realities of politics have always made dismissing officials a dangerous business. Nonetheless, the president could remove many officeholders at will.

It’s an argument advanced by – among others – political scientist Robert Maranto in his 2005 book, Beyond a Government of Strangers (Lexington).

Lindsay Mangum/NPR

Lindsay Mangum/NPR

There has never been a time when the U.S. government did not rely on private contractors to accomplish some of its most important tasks, but the emphasis on “competing” and contracting government functions under recent administrations raises some pressing concerns for the new administration. Over the last couple days NPR’s series Memo to the President has featured two excellent reports on contractors in the context of the incoming administration:

Obama To Tackle Explosion In Federal Contracts

New President Faces Powerful Federal Contractors

This New York Times article from February of this year offers another fascinating treatment.

Following-up on Patrick’s post, a recent Congressional Research Service (CRS) report offers some additional background on the practice of “burrowing”. Here’s a bit:

The term “burrowing in” is sometimes used to describe an employment status conversion whereby an individual transfers from a federal appointed (noncareer) position to a career position in the executive branch…. Conversions are permissible when laws and regulations governing career appointments are followed, but they can invite scrutiny because of the differences in the appointment and tenure of noncareer and career employees.

Burrowing is a time-honored tradition, but the report highlights post 9/11 security concerns that add a new wrinkle to the practice in the current transition.

In a January 2008 report to the DHS Secretary on the transition, the Homeland Security Advisory Council recommended that the department “consider current political appointees with highly specialized and needed skills for appropriate career positions.”

Here’s a copy of the report (CRS RL34706) on  Open CRS (a website dedicated to making available CRS reports typically are not released to the public).

burrowing  The headlines are abuzz with charges of appointee burrowing, an informal term for  the process of a political appointee applying for and receiving a career position in a  federal agency.

  Appointees often apply for career jobs in the agencies they oversee through a  competitive process, presumably to remain in the agency after a new presidential administration makes new appointments.

Some have questioned the qualifications of appointees who were hired as careerists in the waning days of the Bush administration. Critics questioned whether appointees with no apparent scientific credentials should be hired in top career positions in scientific agencies, with the protections of civil service tenure. Agency officials, however, maintain that scientific credentials are not necessary for all management jobs and that the hiring process is open and competitive.

All applications for career positions are required to follow Office of Personnel Management rules to ensure fair and open civil service hiring.

A recent Mother Jones article reports that:

“There is little data on burrowing trends, but in late 2007, a team of political scientists that included [David] Lewis and the University of Hawaii’s David Nixon conducted a survey of federal executives that asked several questions on the topic. Of the more than 2,000 officials who responded, nearly 2 percent acknowledged that they had converted from political to career jobs.”