It’s the competency, stupid

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

Even though our economy is in much worse shape than it was during the election of Bill Clinton in 1992, I think that after 8 years of one disaster after another, what I’m most ready for in an Obama administration is some competency.

This morning at his press conference, President -Elect Obama said:

This isn’t about big government or small government. It’s about building a smarter government that focuses on what works. That is why I will ask my team to think anew and act anew to meet our new challenges.

Much as I found myself far more interested in the field operation of the campaign, I am now much more interested in the behind-the-scenes work being done by the transition team. As the MSM focuses on all of the rumors and speculation coming from “unnamed sources,” I am very curious about what the Agency Review Teams are learning.  

Here is their charge:

The Agency Review Teams for the Obama-Biden Transition will complete a thorough review of key departments, agencies and commissions of the United States government, as well as the White House, to provide the President-elect, Vice President-elect, and key advisors with information needed to make strategic policy, budgetary, and personnel decisions prior to the inauguration. The Teams will ensure that senior appointees have the information necessary to complete the confirmation process, lead their departments, and begin implementing signature policy initiatives immediately after they are sworn in.

I was not able to find out much about their work to date, except this short piece from the National Journal.

Federal agencies have put together lists of top policy, management, legal and infrastructure issues for President-elect Barack Obama’s agency review teams, a top presidential transition official said on Wednesday…

Lovelace said the range of issues at each agency differs, with one listing only 10 items and another identifying 44 considered urgent.

One gets the feeling that there are career professionals all over the federal government that are anxiously awaiting a focus on competence rather than ideology. Here’s what wmtriallawer had to say when speaking of the work of the various teams.

But there is definitely an air of change taking place during the unusually cold Washington autumn. Indeed, career employees of agencies are really impressed that this much forethought is going into the transition. Moreover, from what I’ve heard from some of the feds I know, it is rather remarkable. The transition team, almost surprisingly in some respects, has been given access to agency office space and staff to go over policy decisions and the like prior to January 20th.

Now, I realize people are clamoring for the “big change” in the form of some sort of sexy names in terms of Cabinet posts. But frankly, I think the obsession about “who” will be running these agencies isn’t nearly as important as how President Elect Obama is demonstrating how he wants them to be run.

And the simple act of due diligence with respect to the executive is a earthquake of change unseen in at least the past twenty years, and potentially longer.

So, kvetch about the transition if you like. Get your pet peeves out about cabinet appointments and such. But so far, color me impressed, if only because the Obama administration is working now, doing their homework, and preparing to take charge on January 20th.

Definitely the kind of change we need in Washington D.C. And change that, frankly, is universally welcomed.


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  1. if you’ve learned anything about these teams in your internet travels.  

  2. Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine,” I’d definitely hope that Obama’s review teams are prepared to take on the massive outsourcing to contractors that has bankrupted our government and led to so much incompetence.

    Today in the WSJ, Thomas Frank lays out the problem in an op-ed titled Government By Contractor is a Disgrace.

    the expansion went, largely, to private contractors, whose employees by 2005 outnumbered traditional civil servants by four to one, according to estimates by Paul Light of New York University…

    Some federal contracting, surely, is unobjectionable stuff. But over the past few years it has become almost impossible to open a newspaper and not read of some well-connected and obscenely compensated contractor foisting a colossal botch on the taxpayer. Contractors bungling the occupation of Iraq; contractors spinning the revolving door at the Department of Homeland Security; contractors reveling publicly in their good fortune after Hurricane Katrina…

    Government by contractor also makes government less accountable to the public. Recall, for example, the insolent response of Erik Prince, CEO of Blackwater, when asked about his company’s profits during his celebrated 2007 encounter with the House Oversight Committee: “We’re a private company,” quoth he, “and there’s a key word there — private.”

    So you and I don’t get to know. We don’t get to know about Blackwater’s profits, we don’t get to know about the effects all this has had on the traditional federal workforce, and we don’t really get to know about what goes on elsewhere in the vast private industries to which we have entrusted the people’s business.

  3. by Spencer Ackerman titled Five Critical Foreign Policy Posts to Watch.

    But all the focus on who will sit in Obama’s cabinet overlooks a basic fact of governance. Much, if not most, of the actual substance of policy – from its detailed conception to its experimentation to its implementation – doesn’t come from the heads of the federal agencies. It comes from deep in their guts…

    Not that it will – or even should – stop speculation on the composition of Obama’s cabinet, but here are five critical sub-cabinet positions that will play an outsize role in shaping Obama’s foreign policy:

    1. U.S. Ambassador to Iraq…

    2. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations, Low-Intensity Conflict and Interdependent Capabilities…

    3. Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel…

    4. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy…

    5. Director for the Middle East on the National Security Council…

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