Economy & Budget

Trump’s management priorities critical to policy rollouts

Greg Nash

President Donald Trump’s “skinny” budget submission last week generated substantial controversy, but it is by no means the last word on the subject since Congress will have the dominant role in making the final spending decisions. 

But one element of the budget that has flown largely under the radar is a very important statement on the new administration’s management priorities, an area where unlike the budget, the president has substantial authority to act.

{mosads}There is much to commend, beginning with the important fact that the president included his management agenda in this critical document. Although not sexy, this focus on managing the government has enormous consequence both on the budget itself (huge savings are possible) and on the delivery of critical services.


In the business world, every smart CEO has a gameplan for making, distributing and marketing a product or for delivering a service. The smart CEO understands the risks and opportunities, has a leadership team that is held accountable and knows what decisions need to be made and who needs to make them.

In government, policy pronouncements are king, while attention to how policies are implemented and services delivered is given short shrift. This often leads to missteps that fuel public distrust which exacts a political toll.

Examples abound, from the mishandling of Hurricane Katrina during the Bush administration to the Obama’s administration’s botched rollout of the website. Achieving meaningful results not only requires good ideas and a vision for what is possible, but a management roadmap to get there.

While short on details, the outline of the management agenda included in the budget appears headed in the right direction, with proposals to make greater use of data for decision-making and program evaluation; holding agencies and managers accountable for performance; improving the cumbersome hiring process to better attract top talent; and streamlining the way the government buys goods and services.

As the president begins to carry out this agenda, there are some basic steps that should be taken to increase the chances of success.

Pick leaders with management know-how: The president is now in the process of choosing individuals to fill top leadership positions at the departments and agencies­ — the deputy and assistant secretaries, chief financial officers and others who will be responsible for day-to-day management. In making those choices, the president should pick individuals who have experience running large organizations and who understand how to operate the levers of government.

For new appointees coming from outside the Beltway, part of Trump’s pledge to “drain the swamp,” the new administration should prepare them to operate in the unique federal environment, which includes everything from dealing with Congress to ethics rules and the budget process. Business and managerial experience are valuable, but there are big and important differences between public and private-sector organizations.

Take a holistic view of government: Achieving many of the new administration’s priorities will require an enterprise management approach — having agencies work together instead of operating as separate, disconnected entities when it comes to implementing important policies. Many of today’s critical challenges, from cybersecurity to urban redevelopment, require interagency coordination — using the resources and expertise of multiple agencies to achieve a common goal.

Focus on customer service: Citizens have enjoyed tremendous customer service improvements in many aspects of their lives, such as online banking, retail shopping and information consumption, but government-provided services have struggled to follow suit.

Poor or slow government service has real consequences, from veterans with serious health problems waiting months for care to small businesses waiting too long for loan guarantees. The new administration can make real strides in improving our government by making citizens the driving force behind the design and delivery of services.

Clarify how decisions will be made: It will be critical for the president and his team to be clear about who makes decisions and how they are made, whether it’s routine business, new initiatives or unanticipated events.

Absent a decision-making framework for policy, budget, acquisition, personnel, capital investment and cross-agency priorities, new leaders can easily become trapped in a circular loop where problems are discussed but never solved. Good management is not an end unto itself, but a means to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and that policies and programs are effectively implemented.

Whether Americans want a big or small government, or have disagreements about what government should or should not be doing, they deserve a well-managed enterprise that serves the public good. The president and his team now need to fill in the details and begin to turn their promising management agenda into action.


Max Stier is president and CEO of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill. 

Tags Business Chief financial officer Corporate governance Donald Trump economy Management Public administration

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