- The Washington Times - Monday, February 12, 2001

Throughout his administration, President Clinton was plagued by investigations into White House administrative problems. Filegate, Travelgate and E-mailgate became flash points for critics to accuse the administration of incompetence and worse. The independent counsel correctly decided not to pursue criminal indictments. Problems, nonetheless, persist, and will continue, if change is not made in White House administrative management.

By way of background, in 1977, the Carter administration attempted to formalize White House housekeeping functions with the creation of an Office of Administration (OA), within the Executive Office of the President. The Executive Office of the President includes the National Security Council (NSC), the Office of Budget and Management (OMB) and other agencies critical to the president's execution of his responsibilities. Reorganization Plan No. 1, issued by President Carter, provided for a director to be appointed by the president. The director was to provide common administrative services to the Executive Office, including security clearances, mail, travel support, human resources and technology.

The head of the Office of Administration (OA) was envisioned to be a professional who would ensure that these services were provided by following the best practices found in government and private industry. It did not work out that way in the Clinton administration.

Common communications systems failed to develop, computer operations were out of date and out of step. During the Clinton administration, Congress "fenced-off" certain technology funds in an effort to move technology management forward. Security was initially handled by a retired bar bouncer. Overall management functions were dominated by political appointees with little professional management experience.

Security, after Filegate, was finally given to a career professional. Other areas were not so lucky. For example, the White House e-mail system remained underfunded, in part because of missed opportunities by OA, which is responsible for the Executive Office budget submissions, to seek funding from Congress. Political managers, moreover, failed to follow through on promises to address the e-mail crisis, until it was too late. On top of all that, the relationship between career staff and appointees was at meltdown. Congressional hearings saw allegations by employees of a contractor working on the e-mail problems who claimed that they were intimidated into remaining silent as to missing e-mails.

Unfortunately, the 1977 plan did not provide the needed strong professional leadership. The director of the Office of Administration often served as a political assistant. When the director was not serving in a dual role, he or she was subservient to the political appointees within the White House assigned to management and administration. No direct lines of responsibility were established. Problems of a "disconnect" between those serving the president in a functional area, including White House counsel, and OA became a common occurrence.

Can the new president avoid the administrative headaches created for Mr. Clinton? Several aspirins are available. First, the president can appoint a true professional who would report directly to him, on a basis similar to the heads of OMB and NSC. Second, Congress could require that the director of OA be subject to Senate advice and consent, and thus accountable to the executive branch and to the Congress. Other directors in the Executive Office of the President are subject to this appointment process, including the deputy director for management at OMB. Third, as the president created OA under a reorganization plan, the office could be dissolved and reorganized into a new entity within OMB or another responsible entity. The best answer may be to appoint a professional subject to Senate confirmation.

The director of OA is currently required to appear annually before Congress to present the operating budget for the administrative functions of many of the agencies within the Executive Office of the President. Having someone with whom the Senate has developed a relationship through the confirmation process would increase the possibility that the director would be able to work with the Congress.

Maybe then the president's offices would get the service they need without the headaches of mismanagement. Unless change occurs, more "gates" are sure to occur for the new president.

Jack Young is a former general counsel to the Office of Administration under President Clinton.

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