January 2016
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The Public Manager

A New Year

Monday, January 11, 2016

The last time I penned my introductory column for The Public Manager, our storied publication had just begun the digital age. This new electronic medium doesn't change our message, as Editor Paula Ketter and I have stressed, and this month's issue is a perfect example of both our commitment and our currency.

The IRS's John Koskinen, commissioner of America's most favorite government agency (as an alum, I can say that), comes to us right out of today's headlines—much to his chagrin, I'm sure. And with our new format, we're able to bring his thoughts on public management to you in less than half the time it would have taken us to plan, prepare, and publish the former print version of the publication. In those "good old days" we typically had a six-month reaction time at best, from the emergence of a critical topic or personality to in-depth coverage in an article in our journal. Given today's hyper-accelerated news cycle, six months isn't fast enough for public managers.

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Take the case of Koskinen. He faces one of the most daunting leadership and public management challenges in the history of the federal government. Hyperbole? I think not. The IRS is the lifeblood of most of our departments and agencies, collecting the taxes that ultimately fund our programs. And while we whine about paying those taxes, we also know that the IRS is just the messenger—left to enforce a complex, bewildering tax code that is the product of our equally complex and bewildering political system.

That makes Koskinen's job hard enough. Add a growing number of taxpayers demanding more of the technology-enabled solutions they've come to take for granted from the private sector, plummeting budgets and staff, and a partisan political controversy that has exacerbated both, and you can see why his job (and the jobs of the agency's 85,000+ employees, managers, and executives) is so challenging.

I know this firsthand—I was the IRS's HR chief during a similar "perfect storm" of scandal and scrutiny in the late 1990s—and in my view, the IRS and its commissioner represent a microcosm of the environment every public manager must face. To be sure, theirs may be an extreme case, but most of us can probably see a little bit of our own challenges in the issues at the IRS.

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That's why there's so much to learn from Koskinen and those he leads. And that's why we hope that interviews such as his become one of the signature offerings from The Public Manager.

Ron Sanders
Chairman, The Bureaucrat Inc. Board of Directors
[email protected]

About the Author

Ronald Sanders is a vice president with Booz Allen Hamilton, and the firm’s first fellow. In that capacity, Ronald helps the firm’s most strategic clients deal with pressing human capital and organizational transformation challenges. Ronald joined Booz Allen after more than 37 years in federal service. Over the course of his career, he served as the U.S. Intelligence Community’s first chief human capital officer,  U.S. Internal Revenue Service’s first chief human resources officer, and the U.S. Department of Defense’s director of civilian personnel and equal employment opportunity. His most recent book is Tackling Wicked Government Problems: A Practical Guide for Enterprise Leaders.

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