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Government 2.0? That’s the tagline given the Obama administration’s embrace of internet technologies to promote government transparency. The administration’s website tracking Recovery and Reinvesment – has generated attention and the management consulting firms are catching the spirit (check out the recent posts on the AGA weblog, for example). Is there substance behind the rhetoric? It’s too soon to tell, but as a reform initiative, Government 2.0 is compelling for a couple reasons. Without overstating matters, it seems safe to say internet-enabled communication is transforming our lives in a variety of far-reaching ways, though the long term consequences of course are unknowable. By all accounts, the Obama 2008 campaign succeeded by organizing around a powerful political message enabled new communication technologies. Government 2.0 arguably builds on that momentum.

Moreover, like almost all reform initiatives that actually take hold, the elements of Government 2.0 preceded its brand name. Examples abound, but my favorite is the story of Bush OMB official Robert Shea‘s decision to purchase the platform for (mandated under the Obama and Coburn sponsored Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 ) from the gadflies at OMB Watch. A truly improbably alliance. But more importantly initiatives like this one have established the groundwork for what the Obama administration is attempting to accomplish with and it’s broader efforts around Internet-enabled transparency. Again, as a student of these things, I can offer no wisdom about what will come of it, but it certainly is interesting to watch!


Among the “eggheads” (to borrow a slightly dated term) dominating the upper tiers of the Obama administration – Summers and Orszag being perhaps the most prominent examples – Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein, named by Obama to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), may be my favorite. Sunstein is brilliant, an unbelievably productive scholar – and, indeed, that presents something of hazard. Sunstein’s 2008 book with economist Richard Thaler Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness was widely read – and has generated much discussion about what it means for OIRA.

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“I will be as vigorous in protecting you, as you are vigorous in protecting the American people.”

Setting aside the usual rock star welcome,  President Obama’s remarks during his first visit to the CIA headquarters in Langley, VA offers still another extraordinary moment in the interplay between the presidency and public sector professionalism. Here’s an article in the Post and a transcript of the President’s remarks – and here’s the video from

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.”

Last week’s surprise withdrawal of Governor Bill Richardson from consideration as President-elect Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Commerce was a setback for the transition, but not altogether inconsistent with the position’s recent history. Commerce like the other large Cabinet Departments is not a single but a collection of government agencies with hugely different missions, among them the International Trade Administration, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Census Bureau. The Department of Commerce is a muddle and the Secretary of Commerce has long been among the top prizes for the president’s political supporters. Read the rest of this entry »

Following up on Patrick’s post, Slate’s Fred Kaplan offers a reasoned defense of the Panetta choice. The difficult trade-offs seem clearly to have delayed the pick – and the roll-out was uncharacteristically bumpy, but the transition seems committed to calming the waters. In an important steo (and consistent with Patrick’s thought) the transition is signaling  it will retain the C.I.A Deputy Director Stephen Kappes. An agency veteran, Kappes was pushed out during the Goss era and returned to the CIA under Director Hayden. His returned was widely viewed as a boost to badly-damaged morale at CIA. Here’s what the Post wrote in 2006 about the return of Kappes to CIA: Read the rest of this entry »

Panetta CIAThere is no question that Leon Panetta is a surprise choice for CIA director, but is he a wise one? Political scientist Amy Zegart calls the presumptive nomination “puzzling choice and a high-risk choice” because Panetta spent his career as a member of Congress and a Clinton White House advisor. Some members of Congress have expressed concern that he lacks sufficient qualifications in the intelligence field.

Conventional wisdom holds that appointees to specialized agencies should be experts in their fields. But some of the most successful appointees have been administrative politicians who managed relations with Congress, the White House, and states and localities. James Lee Witt was this kind of director when he led the Federal Emergency Management Agency during the agency’s golden years. Witt relied on a close circle of expert advisors for substantive advice, and he used his substantial administrative skill to implement their recommendations.

Panetta may turn out to be this kind of administrative politician if surrounds himself with qualified people. His qualifications as a politician and a manager are sterling. He’s also a natural policy wonk. Unlike his much-criticized predecessor Porter Goss, Panetta would do well to seek guidance from careerists in the agency who have spent decades in the intelligence business.

Pastor Rick Warren…


Am I the only one puzzled by Daschle’s new red frames?

The Times carries a piece tonight on the substantial barriers Secretary-designate Daschle will face as the point person for the administration’s ambitious health care reform agenda. By crafting the nomination at once as Secretary of HHS and as director of the new White House Office of Health Reform, the president-elect apparently seeks both to invest Daschle’s position with authority and free him of many of the daily demands associated with running HHS’s tangle of programs and agencies. The Times briefly examines Daschle’s support for a Federal Health Board to administer federal health programs. The article notes: Read the rest of this entry »

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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