Early resolutions for Trump appointees

Listen to the career people without judgment, but expect them to brief you without their personal agendas.

“People are giving up tremendous careers in order to be subject to you folks and subject to a lot of other folks. But they’re giving up a lot. I mean some are giving up tremendous businesses in order to sit for four or maybe eight or whatever the period of time is.” — Donald Trump in his interview with The New York Times.

By “you folks” President-elect Donald Trump meant what has come to be called the “mainstream” or “legacy” media. Friends from one end of the political spectrum to the other tell me they think that legacy media has pretty much abandoned even the pretense of objectivity when it comes to covering politics. For many of these outlets, everything — including lifestyle, entertainment and even sports — is political. Pretty dreary all in all.

I thought Trump made a good point, two points really. One, that the media can be rough, and at times unfairly so, on people who are willing to serve.  And two, that most political appointees do come into federal agencies with honest and honorable intentions.

Career feds are understandably nervous about what might be in store when the Trump appointees start showing up. But the appointees, especially the first timers, will be just as nervous. One way to get along productively with people is to understand but not impugn their motivations.

Everyone needs to follow a sort of creed when coming into public service. Here’s my advice to the incoming appointees.

  • Make decisions with only what is best for the U.S. in mind, and not whatever industry or group you might’ve come from or hope to head to after this is over.
  • Understand that you can do the above without throwing out everything you’ve learned heretofore.
  • Ask if proposed rules, actions, initiatives fully honor enabling legislation and constitutional principles. Ask is personnel actions fully live with merit systems and Title 5 guardrails — and if they’re the right thing to do in the first place.
  • Advocate for your program but don’t devolve into official propaganda, as exemplified by this HHS post.
  • Listen to the career people without judgment, but expect them to brief you without their personal agendas. Presume they know a thing or two, and that they have reasons for doing things the way they do. That gives you a much better platform on which to launch change everyone can accept.
  • Don’t feel you’ve got to live or die on every hill. A little flexibility yields to you as much as it gives, and often more.

And don’t think you can change everything. The averages say you’ll only be in the job two or three years. An agenda with 37 items will get you nowhere. Really accomplish two, maybe three tangible goals — say, one programmatic and one for better managing the department or agency — and you’ll be remembered in a good way.

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