Results Are Bush's Bottom Line

Dec. 21, 2004
Federal agenda mixes politics and several private-sector principles.

The new CEO has taken seven months to size up the organization. He's got a pretty good idea of its substantive strengths and weaknesses as well as its strong leaders and its more-or-less reluctant followers. And now he wants to put more of his own management stamp on things. For George W. Bush, the first U.S. president to hold an M.B.A. (Harvard Business School, 1975), the organization is, of course, the U.S. government. And the keyword in his just-released management agenda for the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1 is results. In a 71-page document that has just been sent to Capitol Hill, Bush states, "Good beginnings are not the measure of success. What matters in the end is completion. Performance. Results." For good measure, he delivered the same message in his Aug. 25 radio address. "We want to spend your hard-earned money as carefully as you do. And when we spend the people's money, we insist on results." Bush noted that in 2002 the federal government expects to spend $45 billion on IT, more than is budgeted for highways and roads. "Yet so far, unlike private-sector companies, this large investment has not cut the government's cost or improved people's lives in any way we can measure," he claimed. Not surprisingly, Bush's management agenda as president is far more political than was his operating plan when he was a Texas oil and gas company executive 25 years ago. For example, the management-agenda document, prepared by the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB), takes a swipe at the Clinton Administration for allegedly cutting federal-worker ranks across-the-board rather than by "targeted reductions" aligned with the services individual agencies provide to the public. The White House also is spoiling for a fight with Congress and federal labor unions over proposed "fast-track" legislation that would allow federal department and agency chiefs to identify personnel and other barriers to management flexibility and call on Congress to quickly remove them. Nevertheless, the Bush agenda includes several management principles that private-sector CEOs and COOs have been trying to implement for a decade or more. OMB, for example, is telling each federal agency to flatten its structure, reducing the number of its managers, expanding spans of control, and moving more people closer to its (citizens) customers. Performance-based budgeting is to be instituted to determine whether or not a program as a whole is working. Additionally, agencies are to determine their core competencies and then determine whether they can better serve their customers by adding internal capacity or contracting with private-sector companies. And OMB vows to work with federal agencies to reengineer reporting processes and expand the use of Web-based technologies to improve the timeliness of information that supports operating, budget, and policy decisions. Bush did not wait until nearly the end of August and the formal release of his management agenda to make a couple of notable moves, however. Last month the President told Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill, former CEO of Alcoa Inc.; Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, once G.D. Searle & Co.'s CEO; and other cabinet secretaries and federal agency heads to designate a COO, a person responsible for running day-to-day operations. Bush also reestablished the President's Management Council, a group of federal COOs he's looking to integrate policy implementation within agencies and across the U.S. government. The complete Bush management agenda is available online at

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