The shape of the first 90 days

Moving from the transition to governing: what\'s ahead for the new Obama Administration?

By Max Cacas

It is Day One for the newly minted Obama Administration, and now the new 44th President, his cabinet, indeed, the entire federal government must now turn from the transition to actually running the country. What are their prospects for success during the first three months?

Doctor Michael Watkins is chairman of Genesis Advisors, and a Professor of Practice in Organisational Behaviour with INSEAD, a European-based international business school.

He was here in town recently to help moderate a panel discussion on the transition co-sponsored by the Senior Executives Association, the Council for Excellence in Government, and Harvard Business Publishing.

Asked about how the Obama transition team has performed to date, Watkins said, “I think so far it’s been impressive. The nascent administration has moved with a speed that hasn’t been seen before in terms of putting most of their high level appointees in place.”

FederalNewsRadio spoke to Watkins at the National Press Club several days after New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson removed his name from consideration to be the next Commerce Secretary.

Obviously, the Richardson situation was a “stumble.” I think congressional reaction to the (Leon) Panetta appointment (to be CIA chief) has been mixed. But by and large, it’s been exemplary so far.

One of the members of Watkins’ panel discussion was Carol Bonnasaro, president of the Senior Executive Association. She’s hoping the new President will borrow a page from the first 90 days of former President George H.W. Bush’s first term.

“Needless to say, what we are hoping for, is a repeat of something the first President Bush did,” she said. “And that is, he met with career executives in Constitution Hall, and sent a message that they’re part of a team, and that they’re going to be worked with closely.”

Watkins is the co-author of “The First 90 Days in Government: Critical Success Strategies For New Public Managers”. I asked him to talk about the critical role that the Internet, and particularly Web 2.0, played in the election of the new President, and how it may shape his mode of governance:

I think it reflects the Obama team’s sophistication with the Internet and the use of this media that they’re doing this. As with any consultative process, its a double-edged sword. Having solicited the input, you have to act on the input.

Watkins said that in his panel discussion, someone brought up the Obama transition team’s proposals to place policy-making related documents on a website as part of a proposal for more “transparency” in government. He says that the challenge is managing expectations, and realizing that there are a situations where it might do more harm than good to post that information online.

(Copyright 2009 by All Rights Reserved.)

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