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Your Transition Survival Guide: DorobekINSIDER Live

DorobekINSIDER Live: Surviving the Transition

A special edition of GovLoop’s DorobekINSIDER today. We’re LIVE! It’s the third time we’ve met and we are doing this at least once each month this year. The idea is simple: get smart people together and share ideas because we believe that the real power of information comes when it is shared.

On tap for today: Surviving and Excelling during the Transition.

It is a unique time for government every four years when there is a change of administration — yes, even if a president is re-elected. We’re going to talk about how to survive that transition — maybe even how to thrive… and it is a great time to take a look at the past four years and assess what has worked, and what can be done better.

And most of us know that transition starts before inauguration day and it last for much longer than most people expect.

The DorobekINSIDER’s Guests:

  • Dan Blair, President and CEO of the National Academy of Public Administration. Blair has served in top leadership positions in the executive and legislative branches as well as the regulatory sector. He has received successive Presidential appointments to the Office of Personnel Management and the Postal Regulatory Commission and was unanimously confirmed by the Senate. The National Academy of Public Administrator helped lead the Memo to National Leaders initiative, which looked at issues around the transition.
  • Paul Posner, is director of the Public Administration Program at George Mason University and he served as the chair of the Memos to National Leaders initiative. He led the budget and public finance work of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) for 14 years before coming to George Mason. And, I should mention, he is a NAPA Fellow.
  • Molly O’Neill, fellow at the CGI Initiative for Collaborative Government and the former Assistant Administrator and Chief Information Officer of the Environmental Protection Agency. O’Neill was the co-chair of the 2012 Quadrennial Government Technology Review conducted by the Industry Advisory Council and the American Council on Technology. Hear the DorobekINSIDER conversation about the 2012 Quadrennial Government Technology Review:
  • John Palguta is Vice President at the Partnership for Public Service. He was a career member of the federal senior executive service as Director of Policy and Evaluation for the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), the culmination of a federal career spanning almost 34 years of experience in federal human resources management and public policy issues. In early 2008, the Partnership for Public Service launched Ready to Govern to offer recommendations for the presidential transition and introduce a framework for effective management in the new administration. The centerpiece is a strategy to build and lead a first-rate federal workforce. The Partnership has also published Ready to Govern: Improving the Presidential Transition.
  • Alan Balutis – Senior Director and Distinguished Fellow Business Solutions Group Cisco. Balutis is a founding member of the Federal CIO Council. His 28 years in the federal sector were spent at the Department of Commerce, where he headed its management and budget office for over a decade and was its first CIO. Balutis was chair of the Memo to National Leaders paper on Information Technology (IT) and Transparency.

Let’s get started:

Misconceptions During the Transition

Blair: The process is important because it is an opportunity for a fresh start. You need to make sure there are systems in place to get key appointments in quickly so that you can get them over to the Senate as quickly as possible. You need to insure the continuity of government.

Palguta: It’s important to remember that there is also a lot of change at the lower levels.

O’Neill: Some people view transitions as quick but that’s not the process. This time can lead to a lot of uncertainty on a lot of levels. It can also delay those fresh ideas that political appointees talk about.

Balutis: There is a lot of turmoil that career managers feel during this time. A Government Executive study found 40% of managers feel transition anxiety and 34% worry about morale. It’s also important to note that transition delays can hold up investment decisions and other key programs.

Posner: You also need to think that transitions aren’t just going on in the executive branch. But Congress is switching over and so too are state governors. You need all these people on board if you want to implement a wide-reaching plan – say the president’s healthcare reform.

Budget cuts, sequestration the debit limit.

Balutis: Budget cuts can be a catalyst for innovation. (Check out an extended Balutis interview here) But if you look back over the past 20 years only a handful of budgets have been passed on-time. Continuing resolutions are a way of life. Some good things can come out of not doing “business as usual” because it forces leaders to adapt be more agile.

Palguta: Although good can come out of budget austerity it’s all about moderation. We did a report, Bracing for Change. In the report we realized that on a people front they couldn’t turn the crank much faster. They needed to re-think how to get work done.

Posner: The budget process in many ways doesn’t work. There needs to be a sense of urgency. And with how things are now, only budgeting 2-3 months at a time there is too much uncertainty. The speed to which we have to make decisions because of the budget environment means we are moving away from performance management. The Government Performance Management Modernization Act was a good effort but we can’t really get our arms around it because of the budgetary gridlock.

Blair: I’ve been around Congress since the 1980s and I haven’t seen a breakdown this bad between the executive branch and the Congress. There is an almost complete breakdown in their ability to solve problems. We need to find leaders who can make a difference. We can’t just go from crisis to crisis.

O’Neill: We need to change the way we think in government. We need to take action. History would tell us to wait around until the political appointees is in place to start any project. But in-action is the worst thing that can happen to government. But in order to be active you need good, strong leaders. Cut, cut, cut isn’t a solution. We have to use the analytics at our disposal to invest better and suss out waste fraud and abuse.


Palguta: The Federal Viewpoint Survey this year showed federal job satisfaction was down by 2/3rds. But there were pockets of success. And those agencies that showed growth had great leaders. Like the Patent and Trademark Office’s Dave Cappos. He was able to get his employees engaged by improving technology, opening the lines of communication and adding telework. He knew that if PTO didn’t make changes they couldn’t be successful. Government’s challenges are not getting smaller so we have an imperative to change. Leaders need to be more willing to look towards shared services to look for inter and intra-agency collaboration.

Posner: FEMA’s Craig Fugate is another example of exceptional leadership. He was able to help turnaround the agency with good communication. And communication is key. Take the Recovery Act for example. Most economists would say that the Recovery Act was able to save between 3-6 million jobs. But if you polled the average American they would say it failed. Government has a communication and message problem.


Blair: We need to look at how the government is currently organized too. There has been some interest in the past in a re-rog. But now we really need to take it seriously. Executive branch re-organization should be on the front burner.


O’Neill: Transparency is essential because an engaged public brings fresh ideas to the table. And it’s not just public facing transparency that is important. You need to have open transparency within your agency. We need to get over the myth that the leaders at the top know everything.

Posner: Transparency is important but there are some challenges. First there are more political figures that ever working in agencies. Second there is more polarization than ever. This means that for feds there is a greater fear than ever to speak out because they can get bludgeoned in the public opinion.

How Can Feds Survive the Transition

Palguta: First of all, things are not the same at every agency. There are some real centers of excellence. You need to think beyond your agency/project boundaries. You find those success then you emulate them, adapt them and eventually adopt the best practices – whatever you do, don’t hunker down.

Balutis: I’ve written extensively on this topic. (FCW: Guide for Careerist) But my biggest piece of advice is to relax a little. You can’t control who’s appointed. You will perform better and be happier if you focus on what you can do.

O’Neill: Stay relevant. There are a lot of reasons to not take action but if you can do it, it will set you apart. In-action will create far more problems down the road.

Blair: Leverage your assets. You’re not going to be able to get a bigger budget or expand much so focus on what you do well.

Resources from the program:

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