On his first day in office, President Obama began acting on his campaign promise to “change the way Washington does business.” His first directive to agencies articulated a set of principles of how he wants the government to do its business: more transparency in how government does it work, more citizen participation via the Internet, and more collaboration within and between agencies as well as across sectors.
As I noted in a recent radio interview with Jason Miller of WFED, President Obama has reinforced these principles with a series of specific actions. These actions are beginning to outline several emerging governance themes:
Increasing transparency, citizen participation, and collaboration using Web 2.0 and social media. This administration seems committed to leveraging the power of Web 2.0 and related social media as new tools for governing. This is reflected in the appointments he has made for both the first chief technology officer and first chief information officer of the U.S. as well as early action on addressing barriers to the use of social media in government, such as the government’s recent agreement with Facebook and other social media sites to open them up to greater federal participation.
Using cross-agency, issue-oriented, problem-solving approaches to address large public challenges. The Obama Administration is using issue-oriented, cross-agency, problem solving approaches to address specific challenges such as the implementation of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, healthcare reform, budget reform, climate change, and food safety. Some have complained about too many “czars” and too much centralization of power in the White House, but these new ways of governing will likely evolve.
Changing the way Washington works. President Obama committed to “changing the way Washington works” by focusing on reforms to the core business processes in government, especially the budget process, the contracting system, and the regulatory system. For example, his emphasis on reforming government contracting requires more competition, more fixed-price contracts, better contract management, and more accountability. In his most recent radio address, he says he is committed to fixing the budget process so it addresses rather than skirts hard decisions. He also has placed an emphasis on stronger ethical standards for his appointees and greater transparency in interactions with lobbyists.
Focusing on fiscal responsibility, accountability and oversight. The Administration has emphasized the importance of greater transparency, accountability, oversight, and risk management as approaches to restore citizen trust in the government’s ability to effectively use public dollars. This has been most evident in the implementation of the Recovery Act with the creation of the Recovery Act Transparency Board, and the President’s statements that he will cut $100 million in administrative costs and $2 trillion in spending in a line-by-line review of the government.
Reinforcing an emphasis on performance and results. President Obama emphasized a performance-and-results orientation during his campaign by vowing to appoint a chief performance officer who would work with agencies to set performance targets and ensure they focused on results. His appointment of Jeff Zients to this role, who will be dual-hatted as deputy director of management at the Office of Management and Budget, are a start. The IBM Center report by Shelley Metzenbaum may serve as a possible framework for action.
Strengthening public service. President Obama says he wants to “make government cool again.” He also signed the Serve America Act which dramatically increases our nation’s commitment to both public as well as volunteer service. Recent efforts by organizations such as the Partnership for Public Service have reinforced these efforts.
In summary, 100 days into his Administration, President Obama doesn’t seem to be following a grand management reform scheme but rather seems to be pursuing pragmatic approaches targeted to specific problems – whether in improving food safety, implementing the Recovery Act, or tackling climate change. The common theme, though, is that these approaches seem to be largely collaborative, results-oriented, and network-based. Interestingly, Professor Don Kettl predicted last year in his book “The Next Government of the United States” that the next president would need to pursue such an approach if he were to be effective.