Koskinen stands out

Political appointees rarely seem to understand the challenges faced by the career
federal managers they oversee. Sometimes appointees aren’t at an agency long enough
to do much, or they stay removed from the day-to-day routine.

One example: Steve Kelman. Before returning to his Harvard University teaching post
last year, Kelman ran the Office of Federal Procurement Policy. He had a real feel for the
concerns and frustrations of lifelong federal managers.

Another hands-on boss: Emmett Paige Jr. By virtue of his own long career in uniform,
the former Defense systems chief brought an intuitive grasp of bureaucratic realities to
his assistant secretary post.

Luckily, those in the trenches whose hands are getting greasy trying to fix the
government’s information technology machinery in time for 2000 have someone at the
top who understands what they are going through. John Koskinen, chairman of the
President’s Council on Year 2000 Conversion, appears to be bringing a healthy dose of
reality to the effort.

To be sure, the council’s existence is politically, not technologically,
motivated. And its focus is wider than just the federal government’s systems. The
council is monitoring efforts to keep crucial systems, such as those that support the
electrical power grid and securities industries, running.

The public is evidently frightened enough of year 2000 computer failures to reach the
attention of an administration exquisitely tuned to the public’s pain.

Yet judging from recent statements, Koskinen grasps the government’s own
challenge. He had two pieces of advice for agency brass:

Both are good suggestions that reflect empathy and realism on Koskinen’s part.

Thomas R. Temin

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