Advice for new appointees, career feds in Obama’s second term

Tim McManus, vice president of education and outreach, Partnership for Public Service

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By Katie Howard
Federal News Radio

While President Barack Obama is staying in office for a second term, some of his current political appointees will be leaving.

In order for his new crop of leaders to be successful, they will have to hit the ground running. But, that can sometimes prove difficult in a culture where federal career employees might have concerns about the looming leadership transition, said Tim McManus, vice president of education and outreach at the Partnership for Public Service.

The first 100 days are “crucial” for appointees and career feds alike, according to a working paper written by former political appointees Michele Flournoy and Margaret Spellings on behalf of The Boston Consulting Group.

“The key to that number is a recognition that it is going to take some time, so don’t expect that you are going to come in on day one and change the world or change the agency or have it all figured out even if you are not going to change anything,” McManus said in an interview on In Depth with Francis Rose. “It is a process of getting to know the organization, getting to know the ecosystem that you are dealing with, the culture that you are dealing with, understanding what has been done, how it’s been done and that takes a little bit of time.”

McManus advised career employees to adopt the outlook of a two-way street and to keep in mind that “Ultimately, we are all on the same team and our success is actually predicated on the new appointee’s success.”

He said those in career leadership positions need to recognize, “OK. This is someone new coming in. We actually need to reach out to them and help them understand this and the better the new appointee understands this and gets their feet under them, the more likely [our] agency is for success.”

New administration, new boss?

Even though McManus sees more of a “softer transition” for appointees in Obama’s second term, there could be instances of a “slow drawn-out process” of change for some agencies.

“There is no hard and fast cut-off date, and that probably makes some people a little more nervous about really what lies ahead. You don’t know if it’s going to be the end of January, or does it come next fall or a year from next fall,” McManus said. “There also tends to be a a level of uncertainty for the career people because you don’t know when or if the person you are working for or with is going to be there or not be there.”

In previous administrations, some leadership at the top stayed in place for significant periods of time and even entire second terms. McManus pointed to the second Clinton administration where about 40 percent of top leadership turned over but 60 percent stayed. Of that 60 percent, a significant number stayed for the full second term.

As for the Bush administration, it lost about 65 percent of its top leadership in the second term. But of the 35 percent who stayed, most largely held out for the entire second term.

“You know that a transition may be possible and as days and months go on that will become a little clearer whether or not your agency is going to have some level of transition,” McManus said. “Take stock of what your strengths are, take stock of what your weaknesses are and know that coming in so you can have those candid conversations with the new political leadership.”

One advantage of a two-term administration is there tends to be a repeat direction when it comes to policy. McManus said it becomes advantageous for an employee to demonstrate to someone coming in that they are on board with that and that they know where to find the information to help the agency continue to do what it is doing.

McManus also reminded career employees that first impressions matter.

“Not only are they making first impressions on you, but you are making first impressions on them. So make sure you spotlight the things you really want to spotlight in those first moments because those are the things that are going to stick,” McManus said.


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