A 'New Agenda' for Public Administration

Six ideas for implementing government policy ethically, collaboratively, on time and within budget.
by | June 22, 2011
 

Recently, I was referred to as "a highly seasoned public administrator." The highly seasoned part was easy to understand after more than 40 years in the government vineyards. The public administrator part was not so easy. I had long thought of myself as a public manager. While I had been trained in administration in the Luther Gulick tradition, I thought that administration was passé and that management was the thing.

I just finished my second stint with the federal government. While we employed the new fangled techniques of network management and accountability through transparency, POSDCORB (Planning, Organizing, Staffing, Directing, Coordinating, Reporting and Budgeting) was very much part of our work. The bedrocks of public administration in general -- including ethics and integrity, fighting fraud and abuse, cooperation, and getting work done on time and within budget -- were also fundamental to our work in overseeing the implementation of the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

My work in the White House leads me to think that public administration is very much alive and might benefit from a new agenda. Now, I haven't kept pace with the journals but I will offer my own agenda items first and let others add on.

It's All About Being Ethical, Stupid. In just the last few years, we have see significant scandals in government, from storing cash in freezers to using campaign funds for personal expenses to partying on the taxpayer's dollar. Each of these has a high cost for the individuals involved and a higher cost for their organizations; but the highest cost of all is undermining public confidence in government.

We need to go back to the basics on ethics in government, starting in secondary and higher education, and as an integral part of job training. It isn't enough to show a video or have an online training tutorial. Ethics must be built into every form of evaluation for hiring, retention and promotion; it must be integrated into everything we do.

Budgets are the Primary Management Tool. The debate about budgeting versus management in the federal government is a canard. They should be identical. At every level of government, the budget should articulate multiyear strategic and financial plans. Clear transparent measures of accomplishment and resource allocation should be monitored continually and made public frequently. We need a new model of integrated planning, budgeting, managing and reporting. I suspect some of you have some candidates.

Networks and Hierarchies Can Coexist. It is unlikely -- and perhaps unwise -- that our hierarchical forms of organization are going away any time soon. Hierarchy is too embedded in our organizational culture. However, new forms of coordination, such as managed networks, are enabling hierarchies to achieve their mission more effectively and should be invoked whenever necessary to encourage collaboration. We need to develop a set of network management principles.

People Want to Work in Government. As record numbers of young people seek public careers, filling jobs with this dedicated cadre is a new idea for many organizations. The question is how do we manage this influx of talent and avoid turning them off. The intelligence community has witnessed solid growth in this area and might be a model for other organizations. We need a major initiative to reach out to talented individuals in a welcoming way and determine how to retain them.

Think Locally Act Globally. You may think this is backwards but it isn't. We all have our local responsibilities but leveraging the experience of others makes good sense. Using network principles, we can connect leaders around the globe and improve our own situation while helping others. On a recent trip to Australia, I had a chance to address 200 senior federal leaders. They were quite taken with some of the things that we did in the Recovery Implementation Office. I was quite taken with the fact that they were all in one place, they knew each other and undertook joint projects on a routine basis. We need to create a global network of public administrators to exchange ideas.

Transparency Promotes Accountability. This is one of the lessons learned from Recovery. When information is readily available to the public, the purveyors are much more careful that it is right. Transparency also deters fraud. "The reason that there is so little fraud in the Recovery Act is that so many people are watching the money being spent," said one state official,

Whether it is accountability for results or avoidance of fraud, public administration should embrace the disinfecting power of sunlight. We need to figure out how to embrace transparency while at the same time promoting management, flexibility and protecting privacy.

The above ideas are just a start. I would love to hear from you about your reactions to these items and any others you might have. Long live POSDCORB!

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