As expected, President-elect Obama's first cabinet-level appointee selections have come early and align with the most critical issues he'll face coming into office - the economy and national defense (however, Obama has not confirmed any of the picks circulating throughout the media, and we're hearing that he's more than a little irritated by the leaks coming from his transition team).
Word on the street is that New York Federal Reserve President Tim Geithner will be taking over the Treasury Department, Arizona governor Janet Napolitano has been selected as DHS Secretary, and Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Most recently announced is his choice to keep Robert Gates in his position as Secretary of Defense, and retired General James Jones as his National Security Advisor. We've also heard rumors of New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson for Commerce Secretary and former South Dakota senator Tom Daschle for DHHS Secretary. These individuals still face a fairly lengthy confirmation process (although a DHS Administration Transition Task Force recommended a expedited confirmation process for top DHS leadership for the sake of national security).
Following up on work it did in 2000 at the request of Congress (which was concerned about the lack of "depth and breadth of experience required to manage a federal agency effectively"), GAO has compiled a list of questions that should be included in the confirmation process. What could Tim Geithner, Janet Napolitano, Hillary Clinton, and Robert Gates be asked?
Here are some of the questions that GAO recommends:
Timothy Geithner, Department of the Treasury
There are inherent challenges in implementing and managing any new federal program. However, the Troubled Asset Relief Program faces a number of unique challenges in achieving its statutory purposes, which include mitigating foreclosures, stabilizing financial markets and protecting taxpayers. How will your prior experience help you in meeting your responsibilities over the Troubled Asset Relief Program?
Governor Janet Napolitano, Department of Homeland Security
The department is pursuing the Secure Border Initiative, a multiyear, multibillion-dollar program aimed at securing U.S. borders and reducing illegal immigration. Concerns have been raised about whether early results are meeting user needs, and whether the department will be able to deliver the program on schedule and at cost. Do you have significant experience you can cite with major programs or initiatives depending on the integration of technology? What were key success factors? Based on your experiences, what would be key considerations for deciding whether to continue when faced with significant delays or cost overruns?
Senator Hillary Clinton, State Department
What experience do you have successfully working with a wide variety of civilian and military stakeholders and balancing competing priorities, approaches, and objectives?
Robert Gates, Department of Defense (he may not have to go through the confirmation process again, but will likely face the same scrutiny from President-elect Obama)
To what extent do you have experience in managing complex organizations with large budgets, including developing near-term and long-term investment strategies, prioritizing resource needs, and balancing needs with resource constraints to prepare affordable program plans and funding requests? Given the significant challenges facing the department to address current, emerging, and future threats and the considerable increases in the department's funding to address these threats, if confirmed, what management actions and timelines would you establish to identify defense plans and budgets that are linked to a strategic, risk-based framework?
There are also questions specifically addressing acquisition management and information and technology management:
Information and Technology Management
Confirmation hearings are a matter of public record, and it will be interesting to see the new leadership's responses to these questions, especially those surrounding acquisition and informatio/technology management. While it would be promising to have a department Secretary well-versed enough to answer acquisition and technology questions in depth, I wonder if we may end up seeing responses that ultimately say, "I'll hire someone to think about that for me." As long as he or she sees the vision of technology in government, perhaps that's all that the contracting community can wish for - for now.