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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.


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.

Today’s news conference was overshadowed by the spectacular end of Milorad “Rod” R. Blagojevich’s political career; nevertheless, the appointment of Tom Daschle as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services may ultimately prove the the most pivotal in a series of important cabinet choices. Daschle was also named Director of a new White House Office of Health Reform. This second title represents a unique grant of authority from the president-elect to Daschle, former Senate majority leader and mentor to Obama.  The Washington Post (12/5) writes:

Unlike his predecessors, Thomas A. Daschle, President-elect Barack Obama’s choice for HHS secretary, will be given an expanded role, leading administration efforts to overhaul the U.S. health system.

“This really creates a new type of secretary,” said Charles N. “Chip” Kahn III, president of the Federation of American Hospitals. In the past, “HHS was more or less a service organization to the White House,” while White House advisers drove policy initiatives.

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Gen. Eric K. Shinseki

Gen. Eric K. Shinseki

Yesterday’s announcement that President-elect Obama plans to nominate Gen. Eric K. Shinseki offers a good illustration of multiple layers of politics factoring into cabinet nominations. The press widely reported on the symbolism of Shinseki’s nomination – the circumstances surrounding his retirement as Army chief of staff, his status as a long-time military veteran, an Asian-American, and a fellow Hawaiian by birth. Politico summarizes: “The surprise pick adds yet another heavyweight to the Obama cabinet, and also takes a not-so-subtle slap at President Bush’s original national security team.” Read the rest of this entry »

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 »