There is one thing I think I know about Donald Trump’s management agenda: I am guessing he likes the General Services Administration.
After all, GSA awarded him the contract to redevelop the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue into a Trump hotel, which opened ahead of his scheduled commitment to have it ready for the inauguration. Furthermore, Trump is a builder and thus a presumptive admirer of the Public Buildings Service.
Beyond that, we know from an Oct. 19 interview in the Washington Post that Newt Gingrich has been urging Trump to push legislation to make it easier to fire federal employees. Chris Christie made a similar suggestion in July, noting that “as you know from his other career, Donald likes to fire people.”
Other than those possible data points, the new administration would not appear to have any priorities for federal management. I fear that Trump could be the first president since, by my reckoning, Lyndon Johnson who has no management agenda at all. That would be particularly ironic given that Trump is more of a pure businessman than any president we’ve ever had (though in his business he has been more of a dealmaker than a manager).
That Trump himself has no knowledge about or priorities for federal management should not be surprising. Very few presidential candidates do. The difference, though, is that in recent campaigns both the Democratic and Republican candidates had a campaign staffer, sometimes more than one, with federal management as part of his or her portfolio.
They also had Washington-based campaign advisers who were interested in federal management issues and made suggestions that were vetted, at least to some extent, inside the campaigns.
As a result, even if the candidates were uninterested in or ignorant of federal management questions, the campaigns produced position papers that outlined an agenda on the candidates’ behalf.
Largely missing from the Trump campaign this year — and in areas far more high-profile than federal management — was the presence of Washington insiders to develop issue stances. That lack of involvement on the part of foreign policy and national security advisers from the permanent Washington policy and professional world has gotten some attention after the election.
Because so many of the Republicans who are normally vocal about government management issues have been unsympathetic to Trump — such as current and former Capitol Hill and executive branch officials, trade association people and folks from consulting firms — there was no one to develop government management policy positions for the incoming administration.
That pre-election void might be followed by a post-election drought as well. Usually, enthusiasts from a candidate’s campaign and the permanent policy world produce a slew of individuals eager for political appointments in a new administration. Certainly the incoming administration will have no shortage of people seeking higher-visibility positions. But what about low-visibility political appointments for management-related jobs? Will any red-blooded Trumpites be knocking down the doors to seek a job as assistant secretary for management at the Transportation Department or the chief financial officer at the Agriculture Department? Or, to take an example near and dear to my own heart, to be administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy?
Because nature abhors a vacuum, those positions will be filled at some point, but it might be with people who are either incredibly junior or brazenly careerist, seeking a job only for its resume value.
Aside from wanting to make it easier to fire federal employees, there are few other specific federal management issues on which one can assume that Trump and his team would have at least a prejudice. Improper payments in particular and campaigns against “waste, fraud and abuse” in general could well receive attention.
What I will watch most closely is the fate of performance measurement in the new administration. Using performance measures to improve government performance has been pursued with increasing vigor and some real progress in every administration, Democratic and Republican, starting with Bill Clinton. Will the Trump administration break the chain? Or will it turn performance measurement into a purely punitive enterprise aimed at bashing government incompetence?