Center Blog

Governing Effectively on Day One: How to Use the Center of Government

November 3, 2016

Chantelle Renn and Amanda Patarino, Center for Presidential Transition

The government is complex. Significant interaction and integration of different people, processes and structures is necessary to get things done. For more than a year, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have been making policy promises on the campaign trail. But on January 20 when one of them takes the oath of office, how will they make those policies a reality?

The Center of Government

The center of government comprises several agencies with wide reach across the federal landscape as well as management and policy councils that the president can use to help implement administration priorities and manage the government.

  • The president and vice president are at the core of the center of government, where the authority for an administration’s policy agenda is established and maintained.
    • Both executives have convening power and the clout necessary to drive processes.
    • In an effective center of government, the president must have continued involvement in the implementation of administration priorities and ensure accountability for executing those policies.
  • Policy councils, including the National Security Council, the National Economic Council and the Domestic Policy Council, bring together presidential advisors and agency leaders to develop policy.
    • Policies can be developed through a top down approach where proposals come from the president or bottom up where proposals originate and sometimes are piloted in agencies before coming to the councils.
    • The Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Treasury consistently interact with all of the policy councils because their missions are intimately connected with almost every proposal.
  • Management councils, including the President’s Management Council, the Chief Information Officers Council, the Chief Acquisition Officers Council, the Chief Human Capital Officers Council, the Chief Financial Officers Council and the Performance Improvement Council, play a key role in fostering relationships and convening peer agencies, and serve as key advisors on a range of issues that will impact policy implementation.
    • The councils provide performance and management leadership throughout the executive branch.
    • The councils oversee implementation of government-wide management policies and programs.
    • The councils unite senior executives focused on technical implementation.
  • The Office of Management and Budget has a number of key roles.
    • OMB develops and executes the budget.
    • OMB oversees key management areas, including performance, procurement, financial management and information technology.
    • OMB coordinates and reviews all significant agency regulations, information collection, testimonies and legislative proposals.
    • OMB issues executive orders and presidential memoranda on behalf of the president.
  • The General Services Administration and Office of Personnel Management are related to the center of government and have cross-governmental reach and responsibilities.
    • They enable policy implementation through oversight and support to interagency management councils.
    • They are not directly connected to the president and the vice president, and only play a role in policy implementation for a specific subset of issues.

Center of Government Principles and Case Study

There are five core principles to an effective center of government.

  1. Clear policy goals and priorities
  2. Continued presidential involvement in overseeing implementation
  3. Well-understood decision-making structures, forums and lines of authority
  4. Clear metrics, milestones and monitoring
  5. Selecting effective and experienced personnel

President Barack Obama leveraged these principles in responding to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Less than a month after taking office, Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and used the center of government to implement this $787 billion stimulus package within aggressive statutory deadlines, while minimizing waste, fraud, and abuse.

Principle 1: Clear policy goals and priorities

President-elect Obama convened meetings regarding the recovery plan before taking office. Throughout the law’s implementation, the president made it clear it was one of his highest priorities, highlighting it in his discussions with members of the Cabinet and including the coordinator of the program as a key member of his staff and in Cabinet meetings.

Principle 2: Continued presidential involvement in overseeing implementation

The president publicly assigned the management of the Recovery Act to Vice President Joe Biden during an appearance before a joint session of Congress. This announcement vested Biden with the authority and the backing of the president, on top of the convening power of his own office. Obama also attended quarterly meetings on implementation.

Principle 3: Well-understood decision-making structures, forums and lines of authority

Open lines of communication between the Recovery Implementation Office and vice president with OMB, agencies and state and local governments negated the distrust that often characterizes state and federal interactions.

Principle 4: Clear metrics, milestones and monitoring

Three days after the economic stimulus package was signed into law, Biden issued a memorandum that clearly outlined the implementation of the legislation and the creation of a Recovery Implementation Office to oversee the management of the program. Throughout its implementation, the vice president convened more than 15 Cabinet meetings and made weekly calls to state and local government officials. Biden also had a rule stipulating that if any agency or local government had an issue regarding the stimulus funding, they would bring it to him and a plan would be developed to solve the problem within 24 hours.

Principle 5: Selecting effective and experienced personnel

The president named Edward Deseve to run the Recovery Implementation Office and gave him three titles: special advisor to the president for recovery implementation (which gave him the authority of the president); assistant to the vice president (meaning he would report directly to Biden); and senior advisor to OMB (linking him directly with OMB). Deseve had experience in management and coordination as former OMB deputy director for management and experience planning the federal approach to the “Y2K” problem when it was feared that coding problems would create havoc in computers and computer networks around the world at the beginning of the year 2000.

Priorities and Actions for an Effective Center of Government

Transition teams can start working now to set up an effective center of government as a key enabler for the implementation of the administration’s policy platform.

  • Use the center of government as an enabler for implementation
    • The center of government is a concept widely used internationally and holds significant value for how a president and their administration can govern.
    • Policies are more likely to be implemented when a senior individual in the center of government champions the agenda and agencies are held accountable for implementation.
    • Implementation of policy priorities can be channeled through OMB, the policy and management councils and White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs that engages state and local governments in the policy development and implementation process.
  • Appoint the right people
    • The right people in the right positions in the center of government are more important than how the center of government is constructed.
    • In structuring the center of government, appointments to key positions should be prioritized.
  • Plan to execute early
    • Think about entities and structures in the center of government early in transition planning prior to inauguration.
    • Delineate who is responsible for particular policy areas within the White House and who has (or doesn’t have) direct access to the president, well ahead of taking office.

Want to Know More?

Learn more about the center of government and how the new administration should leverage these structures and entities in this presentation created by the Partnership for Public Service and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

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