How Transitions Are Supposed to Work

By Jon Harris:

President Elect Donald Trump has hit the ground running. Like it or not, this is how good leadership makes a transition. If you were in the military, when there was a change of command, there was an inspection, inventory, and a period of “left seat-right seat” introduction by the outgoing team to bring the incoming team up to speed.

When a new boss comes into a new position or company in the civilian world, they need to know who is who—who does what and why. In our overgrown and mainly nonfunctional government, this could not be more critical.

Although the agencies involved are not happy so far, they should expect any good leader to want to know what is going on. The leadership style of a businessperson and entrepreneur is completely different from the normal government bureaucrat or seat warmer. Donald Trump is approaching his position not only as the political leader of the country but also as a “hands-on” CEO.

He and his team have asked pertinent questions of the Department of Energy about projects and divisions that they very well may not belong in. He is doing the same at the State Department. Our government agencies have specific areas of interest. The agencies themselves say there have been no indications of retribution or terminations, but they are shaken just the same. Seems they are acting as if they know they are about to be subject to some real change—change that may very well expose incompetence, waste, or privileged status. The reaction is a little like trying to circle the wagons.

Many feel that under the last administration, those organizations expanded to areas outside their original purpose. This is exactly what needs to be examined, and President Elect Trump is doing it. There is the cost of these pet projects as well. When the government becomes involved in a new direction and creates a new office with all the staff and support it takes to operate, the cost has a number of zeros behind it. Nothing in the way the government operates is cheap. Trump, as a businessman, knows that there is a finite pot of funds to work with, and it looks like he will be reining in some of those special expanded missions. To be honest, it is about time.

The only way to operate any organization efficiently—a term not often used in conjunction with the government—is to have information about what is going on inside the organization. It is common in government to have so many layers of responsibility in so many different offices that the task becomes not only lost in translation but turns into a new mission of growing the organization. Fiefdoms are protected, and organizations balloon with ineffective policies and directives.

We have seen this in the Veterans Administration and the IRS, where even clear criminal acts and neglect cannot get an employee removed. When the department heads feel so secure in their positions that they will defy an order or request from the President Elect’s transition team, the situation has become untenable and must be fixed. Try that in the civilian business sector and you will find yourself escorted from the building with your belongings in a cardboard box.

New policies directed at giving leaders the power to fix issues and correct employee incompetence and misconduct must be put in place. The way President Elect Trump approached business is exactly what is needed here.

As a nation, we must also refocus on what is most important to our country. Safety, security, economic growth, and stability are the goals that must be a priority. When the responsible agencies get bogged down with special interest projects or initiatives, the focus is lost. This focus must be regained. From what we see, President Elect Trump appreciates this and is working to reestablish control over runaway programs. He may be a little akin to the “bull in the china shop,” but it sure looks like he is determined to get things done.

First, the transition team requested information from the Department of Energy. This centered on what resources and personnel were involved or dedicated to climate change programs and initiatives as well as nuclear power programs and projections. The team also inquired into the Energy Information Administration, a separate department housed inside the DOE, to learn how its findings and cost analysis were reached, as well as some questions about methodology. Although the EIA is not an agency in the forefront like the DOE, the EIA findings are used to form policy and budgets.

Trump’s transition team has also inquired into the State Department’s policies and staffing for many of the diversity projects that have been initiated under the Obama administration. For example, the Office of Global Women’s Issues (first headed up by Secretary Clinton’s former chief of staff and now headed by Ambassador at Large Catherine Russel) is a department within the State Department. It started under the Obama/Clinton administrations and is now a permanent division in its own right. This program may have real value, but does it really belong as part of the State Department, where it is protected and staffed by “friends” of the leadership?

What is striking fear in the hearts of the bureaucrats is that the new administration will actually get things running correctly. Stories of government employees who would never hold a job in the civilian sector are legion. These employees are constantly pushed from one department to another by frustrated managers because they cannot get rid of them. They are moved along to be someone else’s problem until they finally retire. It is reported that some employees do not even come to work, but due to government protections and roadblocks trying to deal with unsatisfactory performance, it has become impossible to correct or terminate an employee.

It is reported that the requests by President Elect Trump’s transition team to the various departments sent shockwaves through the agencies. Why? If the new boss comes in and asks who is who and who they work for, it is unconscionable to allow that employee—in this case, the agency—to refuse to answer. It just does not work like that. Maybe it is the cop in me. That type of reaction sure gets me to wondering, “What are you hiding?”

President Elect Trump’s cabinet selections are also outside of the same old political appointments we have seen in the past. These are leaders in the business world—military leaders who by nature do not tolerate noncompliance or incompetence. They rose to their positions by performance and excelling at their tasks, not by being a friend of a friend. Just think of the outcome when a subordinate tells the general over him, “No, I’m not going to answer your request.” This just isn’t done, and these cabinet selections will demand performance and success. It is not in their DNA to accept anything less.

I hope that the Trump administration will use some of the language we heard on The Apprentice when someone needs to go. I cannot wait to hear him tell someone like Commissioner Koskinen of the IRS, for one, “You’re fired!”

Jon Harris is an OpsLens contributor and former Army NCO, civilian law enforcement officer, and defense contractor with over 30 years in the law enforcement community.

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