Federal Coach

By Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service

Blog archive

Mr. President: As CEO of the federal government, how will you treat your workers?

(Fox's Federal Coach column was originally published on The Washington Post On Leadership site.)

With the presidential race in full gear, I know there are a great many issues requiring attention — the economy, health care and foreign policy chief among them. But I can’t help wishing the candidates would also be asked about their leadership and management priorities, since the president is essentially the CEO of the nation’s largest, most significant institution: our federal government.

In this regard, our next president has his work cut out for him. Despite the heroic efforts of many dedicated public servants, the federal government is not keeping pace in an increasingly complicated world. A major concern for our next president will be figuring out how to more efficiently and effectively tackle many complex issues with limited resources.

Unfortunately, many of our government’s problems and missteps come from a tendency by federal leaders to talk policy and forget operations. The emphasis on policy is understandable, but brilliant policy ideas will fail if the government does not have the capacity or the managerial ability to effectively carry them to fruition.

Whether during the presidential debates or on the campaign trail, I hope the candidates will be asked for some specifics about how they plan to lead and manage our government in these turbulent times and also work with career executives like yourself. Here are a few questions I would ask of the candidates:

• There was a time when public service was synonymous with government service, and when it was viewed as an honor to be a federal employee and serve the nation. Today, trust in government is at an all-time low and federal workers are often given little respect and stereotyped. How will you restore prestige to federal service and attract top talent into government?

• Because our government was formed to establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty, defining a bottom-line can be challenging. How will you measure your success in running our government?

• As CEO of our nation’s largest employer, what are your management priorities to make government more effective and what is your plan to achieve those priorities?

• Much depends on the abilities of presidential appointees to lead our government. What criteria will you consider as you select your political appointees?

• How will you hold your appointees and senior career leaders accountable for the quality and effectiveness of federal programs?

• A majority of our federal government’s senior executives are eligible to retire, taking years of knowledge and experience with them when they leave. How will you ensure that the federal government continues to have the needed expertise to meet its responsibilities to the American people?

I admit that these questions are unlikely to be hot topics in the debates or in stump speeches, but the candidates’ answers to these questions could help all of us better assess the extent to which one candidate is prepared to lead and manage our government over the next four years.

What questions would you want to ask our presidential candidates? Feel free to add your ideas by emailing me at fedcoach@ourpublicservice.org.

Posted by Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service on Oct 22, 2012 at 4:02 PM

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