Donald Trump's management agenda

The president-elect has hinted at his management priorities. Alan Balutis pulls all those clues into one place.

Shutterstock image: an empty board room overlooking the city's skyline.

Steve Kelman recently noted the lack of a management agenda for the incoming 45th president. Although he said President-elect Donald Trump likes the General Services Administration and, as we know from his other career, likes to fire people, Kelman wrote that "the new administration would not appear to have any priorities for federal management."

Such a void would be very unfortunate. Several years ago, in a special forum I assembled for "The Public Manager," University of Maryland Professor Donald Kettl spoke to this matter:

"No self-respecting president can enter office without a management plan," Kettl said. "Not that ordinary Americans expect it; most know little and care less about who delivers their public services and how.... A management plan, however, conveys important signals to key players. The federal executive branch's 2.6 million employees look for clues about where the new boss will take them. Private consultants tune their radar in search of new opportunities. Most important, those who follow the broad strategies of government management seek to divine how the new president will approach the job of chief executive, where priorities will lie and what tactics the president will follow in pursuing them. Management matters; with each new administration, the fresh question is how."

As Hillary Clinton noted in her concession speech, we owe Trump "an open mind and a chance to lead." So I want to offer a presidential management agenda framework (call it PMA 45) for the incoming administration. And although Kelman is right that the president-elect has not talked much about management, the agenda below draws from Trump's speeches, policy papers and platform, as well as those of key advisers.

I hope the incoming management team at GSA, the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management and Budget will find it useful.

The fiscal 2018 budget, of course, will be the president's opening statement on the priorities for his first term, covering tax reform, infrastructure repair, budget cuts, immigration and so on. And the Analytical Perspectives volume usually has a chapter devoted to the management agenda. Expect it to include the following seven pillars:

Streamlining government. Budget increases for the departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security will be offset by cuts in civilian programs (including the Affordable Care Act) and Wall Street reforms and by the abolition of the Education Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and perhaps even the Federal Communications Commission.

Human capital. This is where the clearest signals have emerged to date. In fact, the Washington Post reported that the Trump transition team is drawing up plans to impose a hiring freeze for the federal workforce, end automatic raises, ban union business on government time, reduce benefits (including those related to retirement) and make it easier to fire poor performers. As Indiana governor, Vice President-elect Mike Pence battled public employee unions and advocated a pay-for-performance system.

Regulatory reform. Trump has pledged to eliminate two regulations for every new one passed. And his transition team's Day One agenda reportedly includes a lengthy list of regulations the newly sworn-in president would rescind upon taking office.

Cybersecurity. This is one of the few federal technology issues that Trump has addressed directly. On the campaign trail, he called the United States "obsolete" in cybersecurity and later offered a cybersecurity agenda to "crush" adversaries and ensure American dominance of the web. Look for this strategy to be an important part of the management agenda. Although President Barack Obama has called for $5 billion in additional cybersecurity funding, Trump hasn't directly addressed costs.

IT modernization. Here is an issue on which both Republicans and Democrats agree. The Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act had bipartisan sponsorship and support, as does the Modernizing Government Technology Act, which is still alive in this lame-duck session of Congress. U.S. CIO Tony Scott has sought to pitch the Obama administration's technology progress as nonpartisan, and he has been rather successful in doing so. Less certain is the fate of such programs as 18F and the U.S. Digital Service. On the plus side is a recent tweet from House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy: "We need to modernize government -- programs like @18F and @USDS hold great potential for our country." On the negative, there is a scathing recent report from GSA's inspector general, with another looming and the Government Accountability Office about to enter the fray.

Enhanced oversight. As part of Trump's efforts to root out fraud, abuse and waste, look for proposals to strengthen inspectors general and appoint "junkyard dogs" to those positions.

Acquisition reform. Will we at last see performance-based contracting? One of the many contentious issues during the campaign was Trump's history of arguments with contractors who claimed they weren't paid for work they performed; Trump responded that perhaps he hadn't been satisfied with that work. For years, we've seen major government projects run over budget and behind schedule while not delivering the promised functionality or benefits. And more often than not, the firms responsible suffered little or no consequences. Wouldn't it be refreshing to have the private sector held accountable for a change?

Now that Kelman, not to mention the president-elect, has the framework for PMA 45, I'll pass the baton back to Steve.

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