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Picking a New Boss

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By Alan Balutis February 21, 2008

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There is increasing evidence that management of the federal government may actually become a key issue in the candidates' debates and the upcoming presidential election. The most recent issue of The Economist features Sen. Obama on the cover and asks “But could he deliver?” Of course, for different reasons, Sens. Clinton and McCain are asking a very similar question. Government Executive's own Tom Shoop noted in a recent article, “the debate is shaping up to be not just a battle of sound bites, but a genuine discussion about how to improve the government's underlying capability to address the challenges facing the country.” So it may be useful to take a look at the top candidates as they have begun to lay out their plans for “reforming government” and “cleaning up Washington.”

On the Democratic side of the spectrum, Sen. Clinton co-sponsored legislation to create a U.S. Public Service Academy -- the equivalent of West Point or the Naval Academy -- for civil servants. The measure would dedicate $205 million to fund a 5,000 student institution aimed at producing high-quality federal employees. Last spring, she delivered a major policy address at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire, where she laid out a 10 point agenda for government reform. One of those drew most of the attention: cutting back the government's contract workforce by 500,000 people. But there is much more in the speech, including making it possible for virtually every government service and transaction to be paperless. Sen. Obama has outlined an aggressive technology agenda to make government more transparent, place much more government information online and to create a government chief technology officer with real authority over government services and infrastructures.

Republican presidential contender John McCain delivered a speech in Oklahoma City, Okla. -- also last spring -- where he outlined a comprehensive platform for government management reforms, describing steps he would take to boost federal pay, speed firings, tie program funding to yearly evaluations and toughen acquisition rules.

All of these positions and speeches can be found on the candidates' Web sites. One can also look at the site created by Professor Donald Kettl of the University of Pennsylvania to track management issues in the 2008 campaign.

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