We've just begun another new year, and in keeping with tradition, it's time for some resolutions. For feds, this year is even more important (and challenging) than most; with the aftermath of a historic election and presidential transition ahead, it's a little like a leap year.

So I thought I'd be a bit presumptuous and offer a few resolutions for the new administration, in ascending order of importance … not to try to tell our new president what to do, but rather, to offer some thoughts on how he can make his administration a success — something the vast majority of his new workforce wants as much as he does!

And because each resolution bears more than just a brief description, I plan to follow up with a specific column on each in the coming weeks. So here goes:

5. Avoid freezer burn. The new administration has promised a governmentwide hiring freeze as soon as it takes office, and almost everyone I know has begun planning for it. There is an expectation that it will be imposed as early as Inauguration Day, and it's evoked the usual hand-wringing.

However, in my experience, hiring freezes are not inherently bad, especially if they're temporary; that is, until something more strategic can be put in place. Indeed, they are by far the least painful way of reducing the size of government, and since most agency budgets are dominated by personnel costs, they can force real fat-trimming.

Of course, the devil's in the details. For example, figuring out what departments or what jobs are exempt can be tricky. But if the goal is to shrink government without risking mission failure, the real key is to avoid the adverse effects that can occur over time — the "freezer burn" of talent exodus, critical skills shortfalls, reverse retention (that is, keeping the wrong people) and hollowed out programs.

So freeze away, knowing that there are ways to make it work over the long term, if agencies are given the flexibility, the tools and the accountability to do so. More to come on this shortly.

4. Ensure accountability without fear. Speaking of accountability … ever since the VA wait time scandals, Congress has been in search of more effective ways of holding federal employees more accountable; that's code for making it easier to fire someone.

But as harsh as that sounds, the survey (that is, the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey) says the vast majority of federal employees want those who perform or behave below acceptable standards to be held accountable, and it shouldn't take an army of lawyers and years of litigation to do so. That said, the survey also suggests that the vast majority of federal employees also fear adverse actions that are arbitrary, capricious and (especially) politically motivated.

Can the new administration assure greater accountability without sacrificing the protections that are inherent and imperative in a modern civil service? I think so. There's plenty of middle ground between today's legalistic labyrinth and the institutional — and individual — perils of "at will" employment, but it will require that the new administration engage with employee organizations on one hand, and Congress on the other, to find that middle ground. Stay tuned for some suggestions. 

3. Finish unfinished business. It's customary for a new administration to distance itself from its predecessor, even if that latter was of the same political persuasion, so it's only natural to assume that this will be the case come Jan. 20.

However, when it comes to human capital, I would argue that there are several initiatives that are too important to abandon, or even delay. Things like making the federal government more competitive for cyber talent — Beth Cobert's Office of Personnel Management has made a good start, spearheaded by the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense, and her successor should build upon that — and as a corollary, streamlining and improving the security clearance process, with the standup of the new National Background Investigations Bureau should also remain a priority.

As I suggest below, continuing to modernize the Senior Executive Service (SES) is also critical; here too, the Obama administration started the process, but much still remains to do … so keep the good parts, but take it to the next level (I have a book on "Building a 21st Century SES" coming out in a few weeks that offers some ideas in that regard).

2. Engage your leaders early. As many political appointments as President-elect Trump has to make, they represent a small fraction of the vast bureaucracy that he will command come Jan. 20. And it should be obvious that that fraction is not nearly enough to achieve the kind of transformation he's promised.

Both Republican and Democratic administrations have learned (sometimes quickly, sometimes after years of neglect) that one of the keys to success is an engaged, mobilized career senior executive corps. They're the ones who translate policy into action, and the good news is that the cabinet-level leaders nominated by the president-elect so far — former CEOs and senior military officers — should get this instinctively.

But the SES faces a quiet crisis of its own, what with a long-deferred retirement bubble on one hand and a less-than-enthusiastic succession pool on the other, and it will take some real leadership on the part of the new administration to turn that around. It can start with something as simple as meeting with SES members early on in the first term — instead of waiting until it's too late to do anything other than make symbolic gestures.

1. Show a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Meeting with the SES is a start, but I would advocate more than a single, high-profile event. Like the old Aretha Franklin song, all it takes is a little respect — for civil servants and what they do — and most will follow a new president anywhere.

This, too, is something that the nominees for the big Cabinet departments should know; they've all led large, complex organizations in both the private and the public sectors, and they understand that any high-performing employer treats its people not as costs to be cut but as assets to be leveraged.

Is there fat that needs to be trimmed, regulations to be streamlined, poor performers to be dealt with? To be sure, but I submit that the new administration will find that most of its workforce will enthusiastically support such efforts and, more importantly, they probably know better than anyone how to root them out … if they can be won over.

And winning them over is not at all a "mission impossible" for the new administration. Treat them right — that is, with respect — and they'll be with you. Words matter in this regard, and I believe that it's entirely possible to send the hundreds of thousands of hard-working feds — the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers, Transportation Security Administration screeners, Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers, Department of Veterans Affairs doctors and nurses, IRS and Securities and Exchange Commission auditors, DoD shipyard workers and scientists, and the many others who labor on the front lines of government — that they matter, and that they'll be treated with respect even as the new administration goes after waste and abuse … because they want the same thing.

But as much as words matter, actions matter even more. And in this case, the most powerful may be the simplest. President Trump should meet with his employees every chance that he gets — maybe even have a rally? — to set the tone and set the stage. He's very good at telling it like it is, and feds want nothing more than that. So be straight with them, tell them what you expect of them, describe the challenges ahead, maybe even inspire them, and they'll follow you anywhere! That will do more than anything to keep America's civil service great!

Ron Sanders is a vice president and fellow with Booz Allen Hamilton, but as a former fed with almost 40 years of public service (and nine presidential transitions), he apologizes for still thinking like a civil servant. 

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