Acting Appointments Matter: Here’s Why

I’ve got a long post on the meaning of Obama’s acting appointments at management agencies up at FedBlog today. Here’s the first half:

Why the Acting Appointments Matter
By Alyssa Rosenberg | Monday, January 26, 2009 | 12:19 PM

I’ve had a number of people ask why we’ve been so focused on President Obama’s decision to appoint a number of acting heads of federal agencies. To some extent, they’re right that administrative housecleaning always happens shortly before Inauguration (I particularly like commenter Scot Faulker’s observation that these decisions are part of a pattern of “‘turning agencies into drama societies’ as so many people are acting.”) But I think there are two reasons that Obama’s decision to make these changes, particularly at agencies that deal with federal management issues, rather than with more partisan concerns, are significant and worth focusing on.

1. It means we’re going to wait a while for the President to turn his attention to the nitty-gritty of federal management.

Want to strengthen evaluations of federal employees government-wide or streamline federal hiring? You need the Office of Personnel Management for that. Want to improve federal building security or expand telework? You need the General Services Administration. Acting directors aren’t the people who are going to champion broad innovation, or make ambitious changes. Even if they have relevant experience, like Paul Prouty, who worked in the Regional Public Building Service prior to his appointment to head GSA on an acting basis, they don’t have a mandate to make big changes. In other cases, like with Kathie Ann Whipple at OPM, whose background is in law and litigation rather than in hiring, personnel, or evaluation, they don’t have the experience to conceive of broad new program architectures.

More importantly, appointing acting administrators for these agencies means that the President hasn’t really made up his mind where he wants those agencies to go, and he doesn’t feel a lot of urgency to make those decisions now. They can wait.

It’s true that Frank Reeder told me in our interview that Peter Orszag, the new director of the Office of Management and Budget, was attentive to questions of how to measure performance without drowning in red tape. But Orszag is from the Congressional Budget Office, and will likely spend much of his time taking the measure of major efforts the Obama administration has inherited, from the bailout of the financial system to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, rather than on crafting a new management agenda. Nancy Killefer will certainly hit the ground running as the chief performance officer, but it seems likely that she’ll start out studying a lot of federal management practices, and won’t make recommendations immediately, and certainly not until she has the agency heads in place to implement the agenda she and the president eventually formulate.

And the second (more controversial, I promise) half is available here…

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