January 31, 2010

Executive Branch Management

People warned that one of Obama’s faults was that he did not have any executive experience and the presidential management style that has emerged over the past year is indicative of those claims.

Historically there are two approaches to Executive Branch management. The first is the Spoke and Wheel model popular in the pre-modern presidencies. The president took a more hands on approach and the staff had wide access to the president. The advantages are a President that is well informed and connected to all that is occurring in the various offices.

The disadvantage to this approach is that as the Executive Branch has grown in size and scope this model is time consuming and leaves the president vulnerable to being overwhelmed with trivial decisions. Administrative tasks and tending the minutia of governing makes it hard to think and act strategically which has a negative effect on a president’s legacy.

The ever expanding Executive Office of the President led to the second model known as the Pyramid model which places the president at the top of the hierarchy in the role of delegator. This requires a strong Chief of Staff who handles the administrative duties and acts as a gatekeeper to the president. The president’s time is a valuable asset and this frees him up to act strategically which can have a positive effect on legacy.

There is however a danger of presidential isolation and a distorted view of reality. It also leaves subordinates in the position to act without authorization which requires the president to place loyal, trusted, and competent individuals in prominent positions.

Presidents since FDR have opted for the Pyramid, although Carter and Clinton initially took the Wheel approach, both eventually transitioned to the Pyramid model when their administrations began to flounder. Also, since Eisenhower created the Office of Congressional Relations in the 1950’s, the Executive has relied on negotiation with the Legislative Branch to help guide their agenda through Congress.

Carter and to an extent Clinton in the early years took a more direct approach with Congress with the idea that they should act on the presidential agenda simply on its merits. Congress of course recoiled at this encroachment on their prerogatives making progress nearly impossible. Contrary to appearances the most powerful person in Washington is rarely the President, but as Obama has discovert, the Speaker of the House.

Obama has chosen the Wheel approach but this is a wheel on steroids. Besides the traditional cabinet departments Obama has also added a cabal of czars, interest groups i.e. PPI, Unions, and Acorn plus his ongoing and active political concern the OFA. To avoid the added burden of negotiating with the legislative branch he has essentially deferred actual policy formation to Congress.

The outward results of this management scheme is a schizophrenic administration that has turned its legislative agenda over to the left wing, has been forced to backtrack on nearly every initiative it has undertaken, and is unable to generate a coherent unified message. The President, in his attempt to manage every spoke on this wheel, now finds himself speechmaker in chief, knee deep in issues that are often beneath Office of the Executive, and increasingly aloof and out of touch with the electorate.

The question then; is this chaos merely the result of executive inexperience or is it intentionally generated as a means to his liberal ends? If he reorganizes like his two democratic predecessors we can say he is the former, if it’s the later...


Anonymous said...

Great post. I linked to it over on my site.

Scott said...


Scott said...

I just visited Kings site and he has posted an excellent analysis of the analysis’s analysis. I think? http://kingshamus.wordpress.com/2010/02/06/spoke-wheel-v-the-pyramid-executive-leadership/

Anonymous said...

Hahaa. Now I'm really confused.

Thanks man, if anything I was inspired by your brilliance.