How federal managers can weather election-season uncertainty

Tuesday - 6/19/2012, 5:08am EDT

Ruben Gomez, reporter, Federal News Radio

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November's election will alter the landscape in Washington next year, bringing a fresh batch of political appointees, either from a new Republican or returning Obama administration.

The best strategy an agency can take in preparing for that change may be to focus on doing business as usual, some experts say.

"The mission of your organization is set in law … no political appointee can change the mission of your organization," said Jon Desenberg, policy director at the Performance Institute.

Jon Desenberg, right, of the Performance Institute speaks to Federal Drive co-anchor Emily Kopp at Monday's Government Performance Summit in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Michael O'Connell/Federal News Radio)

Desenberg spoke at the institute's annual Government Performance Summit in a panel discussion with Republican political advisor Marc Lampkin.

"The end outcome, the results for your organization, are largely dictated by the mission. So that's not going to change much," Desenberg said.

Lampkin told Federal News Radio anything that distracts an agency from its mission can put programs in the cross hairs of incoming political appointees.

"The specter of sequestration, and these across-the-board cuts, has a certain impact on the psyche of workers," Lampkin said. "If you get distracted by what might happen, you're going to get off mission, which means that your program is even at greater risk, because then you steer off course."

That could make the program more vulnerable to cuts by a new administration or even fresh political appointees from the current White House.

In addition, efforts to improve efficiency in government might help agencies during a time of transition, Lampkin said, because streamlining programs reduces the chance political leaders will view them as wasteful.

But no amount of waste reduction and cost cutting can save all programs. Managers should operate with that reality in mind, Desenberg said.

"Come to the table with not only data and evidence of what's working, but also suggestions about activities that you may want to end," he said. "I think that gives you real legitimacy and real currency, especially with a Republican administration."

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