Sen. Voinovich to agencies: Stand up for yourselves

Tuesday - 11/23/2010, 7:15am EST

WFED's Jason Miller

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) is about as mild-mannered a member of the upper chamber as one will find. He rarely raises his voice. His questions are of substance, not for show.

But at one his last hearings, Voinovich -- who retires in December -- took the opportunity to make a plea to federal managers.

"It just drives me crazy that more departments don't really stand up and start raising you know what when we don't give you resources you need to get the job done particularly in management," Voinovich said.

"There seems to be a lack of appreciation in this body for management and the importance of having the right people, with the knowledge and skills at the right time, and having to give them the tools," he said. "I think you ought to stand up and fight and not get rolled. Make a big deal out of it. Get the President involved. If I'm going to get the job done I've got to have the tools to get that job done."

Voinovich is ending 12 years in the Senate, including the last five as ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia. During his time as ranking member, Voinovich pressed for both civil service reform as well as better performance by agencies in how they meet their missions.

Voinovich has been part of 50 hearings on civil service issues and helped author or co-author 17 bills, including the Homeland Security Act of 2002 and the Federal Workforce Flexibility Act of 2004.

"I would like to acknowledge your steadfast commitment to the management reform and strengthening of this department," said Jane Holl Lute, deputy secretary of the Homeland Security Department at a recent hearing. "I would like to thank you for your public service and for your engagement with us. From the time we first met until this very moment, you have been consistent in urging us to seek every opportunity to improve. I thank you for that work."

Sens. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are the other two Republicans on the subcommittee. Brown and Graham rarely if any time in the past few years, have showed up for hearings on government management issues so it's unclear who will replace Voinovich as ranking member.

Voinovich encouraged federal managers to be more outspoken and more straightforward with lawmakers. He added agencies are too often not getting the resources needed to transform.

Voinovich placed a lot of the blame for a lack of management support on his fellow lawmakers.

"I know there are efficiencies that can be brought to bear in all of the federal agencies," he said. "On the other hand there are many instances where we have loaded them up with additional responsibilities and not given them the wherewithal for them to get the job done. If I ask you to do a job and I don't give you the resources to get the job done, then basically what I'm telling you is that I don't think very much of the job I'm asking you to perform."

He added that lawmakers without management experience don't fully appreciate what agencies need to do their job, especially around human capital and training.

"One of the first things I ran into when I first came here was in the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) report, there wasn't anything in there about succession planning or having the human resources you need to get the job done, which is fundamental to any successful organization," Voinovich said. "I'm hoping that as we get into this belt tightening, that Congress is aware of the fact that if you are going to have good management and transform departments like DHS, that they will have the resources they need to get the job done."

He said training is one of the most important pieces to ensuring good management, but too often agencies and Congress spends too little time and resources on it.

Voinovich said agency managers and political appointees need to make lawmakers fully aware of the needs they have around management and training. He said there are many examples when agencies didn't speak out and then get blamed for problems.

"For years we've complained about the social security disability [backlog] and when I met with [Michael] Astrue, [the commissioner of the Social Security Administration] Congress just slashed their budget without any consideration as to whether or not they can get the job done," Voinovich said. "And then when things didn't get done Congress beat them up and if you go back and look at it and say the reason why they couldn't do it is you didn't give them the resources and now you are complaining."

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