Thursday, September 20, 2018
Opinion

Column: How Trump can make his job easier

Donald Trump campaigned for the presidency as a billionaire businessman who would bring private-sector expertise to Washington, D.C. But as he quickly discovered, it is much harder running the federal government than a family enterprise.

The White House got off to a rocky start during its first weeks, appearing disorganized and in turmoil at times. Every new administration has encountered speed bumps and made mistakes, having never faced the enormous task of managing such a large, complicated enterprise as the federal government.

The true test, however, will be how fast Trump and his team adjust and whether they will learn the right lessons from this baptism by fire.

Based on the experience of past administrations, here are steps the president and his team should take to manage the government better, create more orderly decisionmaking processes and engender greater public confidence:

• ACCELERATE THE NOMINATION OF AGENCY LEADERSHIP TEAMS. Running the U.S. government is a team sport, and the Trump administration is behind in putting its team on the field, even if the president intends to leave some positions unfilled, as he indicated recently. The president's personnel operation must step up its game, selecting hundreds of political appointees needing Senate confirmation as quickly as possible — starting with the deputy, under- and assistant secretaries, chief financial officers, general counsels and ambassadors.

• EMPOWER THE CABINET. There is a big difference between operating a bed-and-breakfast and a Trump hotel. There is an even bigger difference between running a large corporation and a government with $4 trillion in yearly spending, 2 million civilian employees, hundreds of agencies and 535 members of a board of directors known as Congress.

The government is too large and complex to micromanage everything from the White House, where urgent issues crowd out important matters and complete information is hard to come by. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates criticized President Barack Obama for consolidating too much power in the White House, arguing that the president's staff should respect the role of the Cabinet secretaries and make them partners in policymaking. To successfully address the diversity of issues managed by our government, the president will need his White House to set the direction and coordinate activities but expect autonomous action by agencies and their leaders. Trying to run everything through the tiny White House pipe is a recipe for getting little done and allowing smaller problems to mushroom into crises.

• SEEK OUT PEOPLE WHO UNDERSTAND HOW OUR GOVERNMENT WORKS. You can't drain the swamp without the expertise of people who understand swamps, and when it comes to government, you can't successfully change the system without naming political appointees in deputy and other agency leadership jobs who know the ins and outs of the agencies and their operations. Bringing in outsiders without experience to shake things up sounds fine, but you need a strong subset of people with a clear understanding of the government you are trying to change.

• DON'T VIEW CAREER CIVIL SERVANTS AS THE ENEMY. The president and his Cabinet face a big challenge of making full use of the skills and expertise of the career workforce. Trump needs to find ways to work with — not go to battle against — the people in his own administration to be successful.

The president will set policy and should expect it to be carried out by federal employees. But he should also create decisionmaking processes that allow experts inside the government to have a voice, to offer ways to improve policies and to raise red flags that could help avoid embarrassment or prevent harm to the nation. Slamming the door on authorized channels for dissent or dialogue will result only in increased leaking of information, creating unnecessary firestorms.

• REMEMBER THAT IMPLEMENTATION MATTERS. Thomas Edison aptly observed that vision without execution is hallucination. It is one thing to issue executive orders and make grand policy announcements; it is another to carry them out. How policies are implemented is critical — a lack of attention to detail has burned many an administration, caused scandals and political fallout, and set back the best-laid plans.

One of the great tests for highly successful individuals taking on new and different challenges is whether they are able to adjust to the changed circumstances. Trump has the opportunity to demonstrate he can be an effective leader on the biggest stage in the world, but he will need to change his playbook and management approach if he wants a well-functioning government that meets the needs of the American people.

Max Stier is president and chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service. © 2017 Washington Post

Comments
Editorial: Immigrants help to make America great

Editorial: Immigrants help to make America great

The heated debate on immigration could benefit from some more facts, which the U.S. Census has helpfully provided. And the facts show that rather than building walls, the United States would do far better to keep opening doors to legal immigrants. Th...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Editorial: FDA acts to keep e-cigarettes from kids

Editorial: FDA acts to keep e-cigarettes from kids

The federal Food and Drug Administration is bringing important scrutiny to the increasing use of e-cigarettes, requiring companies that make and sell them to show they are keeping their products away from minors. Vaping is the new front in the nation...
Published: 09/18/18

Tuesday’s letters: Honor Flight restored my faith in America

Dogs are the best | Letter, Sept. 15Honor Flight restored my faith in AmericaJust as I was about to give up on our country due to divisiveness and and the divisions among its people and politicians, my pride was restored. As a member of the recen...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Editorial: Senate should delay vote on Kavanaugh

Editorial: Senate should delay vote on Kavanaugh

The Senate and the nation needs to hear more about the sexual assault allegation against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Setting aside Kavanaugh's judicial record, his political past and the hyper-partisan divide over his nomination, a no...
Published: 09/17/18
Editorial: Tampa council has another chance to show it takes Stovall House changes seriously

Editorial: Tampa council has another chance to show it takes Stovall House changes seriously

The Tampa City Council has yet to hear a compelling reason to allow a private social club in a residential neighborhood off Bayshore Boulevard, and a final meeting on the matter scheduled for Thursday offers the council a chance to show the diligence...
Published: 09/14/18
Editorial: Focus on Hurricane Florence, not defending poor response in Puerto Rico

Editorial: Focus on Hurricane Florence, not defending poor response in Puerto Rico

Hurricane Florence began lashing down on the Carolinas Thursday and was expected to make landfall early Friday, washing over dunes, downing trees and power lines and putting some 10 million people in the path of a potentially catastrophic storm. Flor...
Published: 09/13/18
Editorial: Scott sends positive signal on Supreme Court appointments

Editorial: Scott sends positive signal on Supreme Court appointments

Gov. Rick Scott has headed down a dangerous path by announcing he has started the process to fill three upcoming vacancies on the Florida Supreme Court as he heads out the door. But to his credit, the governor indicated his "expectation’’ is that he ...
Published: 09/12/18
Updated: 09/14/18
Editorial: Stalled U.S.-Cuba relations hurting Florida business

Editorial: Stalled U.S.-Cuba relations hurting Florida business

After an encouraging start, the breakdown in America’s reset with Cuba is a loss for both sides and for the state of democracy across the region. Havana and Washington are both to blame, but the Trump administration’s hard line with Cuba is out of sy...
Published: 09/12/18
Lessons from Moonves’ ouster

Lessons from Moonves’ ouster

If the swift departure of CBS Chairman Les Moonves has a bright side, it’s that a major television network took accusations of sexual harassment against its chief executive seriously enough to hold him accountable and obtain his resignation even at t...
Published: 09/11/18
Updated: 09/14/18
Editorial: Banks should not shut down campaign accounts for marijuana ties

Editorial: Banks should not shut down campaign accounts for marijuana ties

Two banks have taken the retaliatory step of closing down the campaign account of a statewide candidate because she received contributions from the medical marijuana industry. Nikki Fried, the Democratic nominee for agriculture commissioner, has been...
Published: 09/10/18
Updated: 09/14/18