Friday, July 12, 2013

A forward-thinking “White House Team”

The White House staff is similar to a holding company with a large collection of offices, each of which has its own set of: (a) responsibilities; (b) constituents and (c) work flows.” [Mitt Romney Inc.: The White House That Never Was, Time Magazine, 2nd Jun 2013] Unfortunately, it was not to be. Still, it’s interesting how the team’s thinking process went. “It is a holding company with three main divisions: (a) “Care & Feeding Offices,” like speechwriting; (b) “Policy Offices,” like the National Security Council, and (c) “Packaging & Selling Offices,” like the office of the press secretary.”

Among the recommendations for the Romney administration: (a) Corporate-style training seminars were planned for appointees and nominees before the inauguration to teach management skills; (b) A plan to restructure White House operations to suit Romney’s corporate management style, with clear deliverables; (c) Detailed flow charts delineating how information and decisions were disseminated through the administration to achieve “unity;” and (d) Plans to evaluate Cabinet secretaries’ performance by “systematically assessing the efforts of their departments in contributing to [Romney's] priorities and objectives, perhaps by a newly created ”deputy chief of staff for Cabinet oversight.”

In this blog I have been talking about my Eastern European friends and how a once small enterprise in the middle of nowhere “could spread their presence in numerous countries in the relatively short period of ten years” – and, more importantly, that many of the thinking in the private sector could be adapted for the public sector. Romney's presidency could have been "the consultancy presidency" and Bush 44 was supposed to be "the MBA presidency." Except that with Cheney as the quarterback, Bush’s became "the ideology presidency" – and brought the world to what is now regarded as a ‘war of choice.’ In the case of Clinton, Bentsen as the architect (and then Rubin) was able to craft Clinton’s "the economy presidency" – or better known as: “It’s the economy, stupid!”

The bottom line: even the American forward-thinking mode isn’t a guarantee that a presidency would be a success especially when extreme ideology infects the thinking process. It is difficult to dissect a non-existent Romney presidency in particular if he would have been under the influence of the extreme right. And as many had sensed, it was because of his fear of offending this wing that he couldn’t articulate a more centrist posture or, much less, a progressive one like he did when he was Massachusetts governor – where universal health care was the feather in his cap.

But clearly Romney’s team embraced the wisdom of borrowing management systems from the private sector. And what can we in PHL take away from that? When Romney’s team talks of a “White House operations with clear deliverables,” for example, it doesn’t mean doing road shows to attract investors or inviting them over – whether they’re in Switzerland or Myanmar? A deliverable would be: “raising FDIs to PHL to $8 billion each year," for instance. The common misconception is that “an activity” is a deliverable, but it is a tangible outcome that defines a deliverable. Another imperative from the Romney team is “achieving unity” via “flow charts delineating how information and decisions are disseminated.” In the case of the current PHL administration, within the economic cluster, for example, debates between departments are done via press releases, and focused on “activity” as opposed to “deliverables.” For instance, the activity of raising tax collections is a given (granted it demands tough-mindedness) but a predicate is a must – which is precisely what the 7 strategic industries in “Arangkada Philippines 2010” are about; and they are then meant to deliver over $100 billion in incremental GDP.

Once these deliverables are clear to everyone, then as the Romney team has described, there will be “a systematic assessment of the efforts” of the different departments. Yet even before any assessments are conducted, “there must be corporate-style training seminars for appointees and nominees before the inauguration – to teach management skills.” And while Cabinet secretaries may have their respective expertise, they can’t be assumed to function efficiently and operate like a team in support of the president’s agenda – especially when they are a new team. Could we learn something from the Romney team?

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