What does the transition from President Obama’s first term to his second term mean for political appointees and career staff? Dan Mintz, former CIO of the Department of Transportation weighs in on the transition in today’s DorobekINSIDER interview. Mintz was part of the transition team after former President Bush’s second term.
New team = Rapid progress?
Speaking generally on political transitions, Mintz points out that there are “too many people who come in, and this is both parties, that feel that the predominant reason why things weren’t done well was because they weren’t there… they ignore the fact that there are systemic reasons why things are done well.” To this problem, Mintz advises instead of biting off more than they can chew, political appointees should aspire to make changes in a small number of areas. “It takes so long to understand the culture, to figure out how to make change and then to really cause change that you can really only focus on a small number of things.”
Working with the Career Workforce
With any policy initiative, it is most likely to succeed if the career staff informed and supported. Political appointees are obligated to “figure out how to respect and involve (career staff) in the process.” To do this, appointees should “be as transparent as possible” and listen to the opinions and goals of the career staff.
What He Wished He Knew Sooner
Mintz defines two areas that he learned more about as he continued in his career that would have been helpful to understand at the outset. First, it takes a long time to get acquainted with federal processes. For example, the “budget process is so different than in a private company.” People outside the government “do not understand how much the budget process causes resistance to change.” A second lesson was that decisions need to be made in a very collegial fashion because the Department of Transportation, like many other departments, is really a federation of agencies.
When Mintz reflects on his career at the DOT, he says “it was the only job I ever had in my life where I enjoyed going to work every day.” To new political appointees, Mintz leaves with the advice, “define what you want to accomplish and have fun.”