From the trenches

Thomas R. Temin

They praise one another in public. They describe an ongoing and bipartisan process of reform in systems procurement and management that dates back to 1993. But Clinton administration appointees have a subtly different worldview than their Bush administration counterparts. Career officials who don't discern this face an unpleasant couple of years.

The difference in outlook came through loud and clear at an Input conference earlier this month in Virginia. The juxtaposition of speeches by Steve Kelman, President Clinton's former procurement policy chief, and Mark Forman, President Bush's e-government czar, showed the contours of the divide. Kelman spoke of revolutions he'd helped launch, Forman of tightening management discipline.

In rewriting and streamlining how government buys, the Clinton administration handed a lot of discretion back to the government. It repealed longstanding law that had made the General Services Administration the arbiter of big systems buys'a responsibility the old GSA never managed with much skill.

But the current administration has re-centralized control of systems in the Office of Management and Budget, where Forman has been a tireless driver of good management. Forman said his office will cancel even a brand-new project if an agency's program management isn't robust enough.

Similarly, Kelman's counterpart, Angela Styles, has been pushing for a return to more formalized bid-seeking and less agency discretion.

Obviously, the Clinton and Bush crews have little in common on any subject. On IT and procurement, however, the reforms have been generally bipartisan, and the Bush appointees are building in many ways on reforms begun under Clinton. And in fact they take pains to acknowledge one another's efforts.

The difference is that Kelman and his colleagues gleefully uncorked decades of bottled-up drive for bureaucratic discretion. Forman, Styles & Co. want to rein in the bubbly using sound business cases and project management. Plus, they've handed more power to appointees and taken it from career officials.

No wonder Kelman made a passing reference to the threat of a counterrevolution.

Reader Comments

Wed, Jul 22, 2009

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