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January 30, 2009

Rove's Reasoning is a Crowded Mess
Posted by Adam Blickstein

A quick point on Karl Rove's largely half-baked and rambling Wall Street Journal piece yesterday. In it, he argues:

Aides say Mr. Obama believes the cabinet structure is "outdated." His appointment of czars to oversee technology, automotive and environmental policies underscores this belief because each new czar weakens cabinet and agency involvement in policy decisions. The White House has always had overlapping lines of authority, which creates a certain amount of conflict while everyone figures out who really has clout. But Mr. Obama has added to the confusion by making declarations that multiple people in his cabinet or on his staff have more authority and responsibility than their predecessors. In addition to creating a protracted power struggle within the West Wing, Mr. Obama's management decisions may lead to more intrusive, larger government policies gaining traction.

Well, yes, Obama has placed many political czars inside the White House to dictate certain policy programs and initiatives. But this makes much more sense than hiding and burrowing political moles within the departments themselves. Obama is viewing cabinet officials, their fiefdoms, and staff as the mechanism to implement policy rather than dictate political imperatives and serve as partisan outposts as was the case over the past eight years. What Rove and the Bush administration did was outsource the politics into the agencies, embedding partisan hacks everywhere in government, from the top levels down, and across the board from Justice to NASA to Energy to FEMA to Agriculture. At least what Obama is doing is being up front, admitting rightly so that there are political considerations in serious policy decisions, and is consolidating the political levers in the White House instead of going stealth in the various agencies. It's a massive improvement over the cloak and dagger approach that largely upended the normal functions of government during the last administration and was the impetus for a great deal of the institutional abuses that occurred.  In its essence, Obama is providing structural transparency.  What Rove and Bush pursued was institutional treachery. By attacking Obama, Rove is simply trying to justify their blatant attempts to re-imagine and politicize the system for partisan gain by going after what seems to be a sensible righting of the tiller of government.


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Karl Rove is a political operative -- what does he know about management?

Obama may be embracing a concept where program (or project) managers have responsibilities for managing the implementation and successful completion of programs which include efforts which cut across established line-and-staff organizations. For example, an automotive enhancement program might include efforts in commerce, labor, interior and energy. A single program manager ("czar") is better able to continually coordinate these various efforts and achieve the desired results, than if each department is left on its own. It's constant, effective coordinated management (good) versus individual department programs coordinated at cabinet meetings (bad).

The program (or project) manager concept has been with us since at least the 1960's, and it works.

The program (or project) manager concept has been with us since at least the 1960's, and it works

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The program (or project) manager concept has been with us since at least the 1960's, and it works.


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The big mistake Rove made, he suggests, was not forcefully countering the Democrats who later claimed that Bush had lied about WMDs.

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