Senior federal executives got some advice Wednesday on how to better lead the coming transition of political leadership across government.
Donna Shalala, former Health and Human Services secretary, and former NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe told hundreds of members of the Senior Executive Service that they are the most critical players during transitions, whether for a second presidential term or a change to a new presidential administration.
“The transition that all of you will go through now is in some ways a friendly transition because some people will stay and others will leave, but there will be a core of political appointees who will stay for some time, at least through the transition,” Shalala told the audience at the Interior Department headquarters auditorium Wednesday.
Now president at the University of Miami, Shalala said that when she first took over HHS as secretary in President Clinton’s first term, “I literally ran HHS with the SES for a month,” she said.
Her tips on how executives can be of most help to new political appointees:
Anticipate what’s next for the new people who are coming in. Understand what directives are coming from the White House and what the president may want them to work on initially.
Teach incoming political appointees the vocabulary of the department.
Promote collaboration and integration between career employees and political employees.
Encourage appointees to meet with members of Congress from both parties and with key committees as soon as possible.
Narrow the number of things appointees have to worry about by keeping briefing books brief, and help them identify quick turn-around projects and initiatives that will make the department visible.
Shalala said during the first six months new appointees are still feeling their way around. Anything professionals can do to simplify and clarify things is key, she said.
O’Keefe said that “each of you are more essential in a period like this in terms of your leadership responsibilities than any other time.” He added: “Career SES, in my mind, is the foundation, the anchor for every administration to execute policies, programs and initiatives.”
The event was put on by the Leading Executives Driving Government Excellence (EDGE), a leadership development program for federal executives that kicked off this summer.