Roadmap for Renewing Our Federal Government

Leadership and Stewardship

Bright Spots
Despite the challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic, federal leaders have stepped up to ensure veterans know about their benefits and their employees are supported.

Paul Lawrence from the Veterans Benefits Administration made it his mission to reach more than a million veterans online to educate them about their benefits.

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Vice Adm. Robert Sharp at the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency has set the tone for the agency, for example, communicating with employees through interactive town halls, to ensure their well-being and helping them do their jobs.

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Anthony Fauci from the National Institutes of Health demonstrated stewardship of the public trust and commitment to the public good by providing guidance to the public and the administration on dealing with the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.

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Problem
The federal government is facing a leadership crisis. Political appointees serve for a short period of time with little incentive to invest in the long-term health of the institutions they lead. There are too many political appointees and many positions undergo frequent turnover or have lengthy periods of vacancy. Political appointees are often unprepared for the unique responsibilities of public sector leadership and how to work with stakeholders across government, including Congress. Leadership development opportunities for career executives are scattered, if they exist at all, and seldom imbued with the values of stewardship and public trust. Succession planning is given short shrift, and career executives and political leaders do not reflect the diversity of the workforce.
The president can make 4,000 political appointments, more than in any other democracy, and that includes 1,200 requiring Senate confirmation.
Today it takes twice as long for the Senate to confirm a nominee (115 days) as it did during the Reagan administration (56 days), often resulting in lengthy vacancies in key leadership positions
About 62% of the members of Senior Executive Service are eligible to retire at the end of fiscal 2023, but many agencies have no formal succession planning and make little effort to involve departing leaders in preparing their successors.
In July 2020 as COVID-19 cases were rising across the country, 39 out of 68 political positions critical to the government’s pandemic response were unfilled by a Senate-confirmed official. This included the secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, the undersecretary for health at the Department of Veterans Affairs and the assistant secretary for occupational safety and health at the Department of Labor.
According to the Survey on the Future of Government Service, 36% of respondents believe leadership is held accountable for recruiting top talent.
Solution
We need to reduce the number of political appointees, streamline the appointments process and equip new political appointees to lead by deepening their understanding of the unique aspects of managing in the federal government. Agencies must do a better job of training, supporting and developing career leaders at all levels with consistent standards focused on modern competencies and core values of stewardship and public trust. Attention also must be paid to ensuring that government leaders reflect and represent the diversity of the workforce and the nation.
Early Actions for the Next Administration

Select and promote capable and credible leaders. Recruit, appoint and nominate talented Americans from all backgrounds, races, ethnicities and regions for political appointments, with prior leadership and diversity of experience for those appointees selected to head large organizations. Ensure they demonstrate the core values of the Public Service Leadership Model: stewardship of public trust and commitment to public good. Build career and political leadership teams reflecting diverse perspectives.
Foster a culture of leadership. Promote a leadership standard for all employees based on a foundation of shared ethics and values. Encourage agency heads to meet regularly with their leadership teams, including career executives, to establish and reinforce a shared vision and values. Craft clear and concise messages reflecting vision and values to the workforce in the early days of the administration.
Cultivate an effective leadership corps. The president should set the tone and vision for the next four years by meeting with the 7,000+ senior career executives who will lead the implementation of the administration's policies. Train new political appointees on what it means to lead in government, with an emphasis on stewardship of public trust and commitment to public good. Conduct joint training with the career and politically appointed leaders, accelerating trust and coordination within and across agencies.
Bolster executive accountability and recognize success. Require all political and career leaders to have performance plans reflecting policy objectives and institutional management, including leading the workforce and soliciting input and engaging line employees in making the agency more effective. Set government-wide expectations for holding leaders accountable for performance. Endorse and promote recognition opportunities at the agency level and through the Presidential Rank Awards.
Set an expectation for data-driven management and decision-making. Ensure all leaders take inventory of the data and performance insights available to them, understand the value of data and use it to inform their decisions.
Resources
A Pivotal Moment for the Senior Executive Service: Measures, aspirational practices and stories of success
Inspired by President Obama’s December 2015 Executive Order – Strengthening the Senior Executive Service, the Partnership for Public Service and McKinsey & Company set out to identi...
Building the Leadership Bench: Developing a Talent Pipeline for the SES
In the next five years, nearly two-thirds of the Senior Executive Service (SES)—the elite cadre of civil servants who hold the top managerial and policy positions in government—will be ...
Mission-Driven Mobility: Strengthening Our Government Through a Mobile Leadership Corps
The Partnership for Public Service, in collaboration with McKinsey & Company examined all forms of mobility—intraagency to multisector—and identified the extent to which they are cu...
SES Joint Policy Proposal
The Partnership for Public Service, the Volcker Alliance and Senior Executives Association have worked to identify solutions to strengthen the federal civil service, including at the leadership levels...
A Nonpartisan Model for Developing Public-Service Leaders
As Covid-19 spreads around the globe and throughout the United States, effective government leadership matters more than ever. Enter Dr. Anthony Fauci. Having led the National Institute of Allergy and...
Tracking how many key positions Trump has filled so far
The Post and Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, are tracking roughly 700 key executive branch nominations through the confirmation process. These positions include ...
Ready to Serve
Serving America through a presidential appointment is a great honor and responsibility.
Center for Presidential Transition
The Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition® serves as the premier nonpartisan source of information and resources to help presidential candidates and their teams lay th...
Public Service Leadership Model
To help government leaders take advantage of the opportunity they have been given to improve our country, we developed the Public Service Leadership Model. This model is the new standard for effective...