The Importance of Management Policy in American Governance

American Mind

Why the right needs to study management policy

In November, the Biden Administration released the President’s Management Agenda Vision, outlining its agenda to overhaul the federal workforce and its operationsAt the top level are some goals all Americans should like, such as improving how citizens interact with the federal bureaucracy and rebuilding domestic industrial capacity. Other goals, as well as the methods of achieving them, reflect an expressly progressive ideology. If fully implemented, this risks further entrenching partisan politics into the machinery of the federal bureaucracy, undermining the ideals of a meritocratic and nonpartisan civil service, and misdirecting agency funding and activity away from their fundamental missions and toward costly ideological goals such as eliminating climate change. If we stay on this course, we will soon find it impossible to reform wasteful programs and inefficient institutions, even when principled advocates of limited government are elected.

This landscape heightens the urgency to understand management policy, one of the most consequential yet least-studied domains of public policy. This is a particular challenge on the political Right. Modern Republican administrations have attempted to reform the management of the federal government. Yet the executive branch remains poorly managed and, all too often, unaccountable to Congress and the American people. Despite this longstanding and widely recognized challenge, most top right-of-center think tanks either ignore management policy, offer research that merely tweaks or reinforces the status quo, or promote ideas that are too theoretical for practical implementation. To address this gap, we need thorough research, bold yet practical policy playbooks, and a talent pipeline with the right managerial skill sets. Otherwise, even if they win elections, conservatives risk being like the dog that catches the car, lacking the specific knowledge to command the federal bureaucracy and implement their governing agenda.

This disinterest in management policy is unfortunate, because much is at stake. First, management policy governs the use of trillions of taxpayer dollars and the management of millions of federal workers in one of the largest, most complex organizations in history. Second, management policies can build or deteriorate the people’s trust and confidence in the competence of government, whether in handling routine business, administering elections, protecting our national security, or responding to emerging crises.

It is necessary, therefore, to understand what constitutes management policy, to know who is responsible for its crafting and implementation, and to appreciate its true size and scope. Management policy needs to be studied, not ignored. We need to build new institutions, train new talent, and stop ceding this ground to the progressives. We need to craft a bold new policy reform agenda that will transform the operations of the federal government to reflect a sound and principled vision of our republic that serves the everyday American.

This essay introduces federal management policy, outlines key policies implemented over the past 100 years, identifies key stakeholders in designing and implementing them, and highlights the enormous size and scale in human, financial, and technological resources that they govern.

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