April 28, 2020
Cities and counties across the country have been on high alert since the first community spread of COVID-19 was documented at a nursing home in Kirkland, Washington in late February. The city government there faced an immediate emergency response challenge when nearly 30 firefighters and police officers had to self-quarantine following contact with the nursing home’s patients.
Just a few days later in Norwood, Massachusetts, the town manager, school superintendent, and several other top staff also had to self-quarantine after being exposed to the virus at a neighborhood event. Since then, local governments across the country have grappled with everything from how to handle public meeting requirements in a socially distancing world to the desperate search for the personal protective gear needed by those on the front lines.
The resulting stresses on public health, the workforce, and state and local government budgets have been excruciating. For the foreseeable future, we will be immersed in an intense public health response period. And yet, we also have to think about how to best confront and mitigate the long-term economic hardships ahead. Local and state government leaders have been speaking up, gathering data, and raising alarm bells.
April 21, 2020
I am the HR director of a large city government. I serve on our COVID-19 response team and lead a smaller team looking at our “workplace of tomorrow.” We in Human Resources are trying to respond to a lot of employee questions and help the city manager and department heads communicate with employees. Many of our employees are working remotely, as well at city facilities and in the field.
My city government is a fairly rule-bound organization. Our rules and procedures are well-suited for a stable environment. Yet now we are overwhelmed with new challenges, such as keeping everyone safe and healthy, and of course dealing with projected budget shortfalls. Senior management and all employees feel a lot of anxiety and distress.
I am very committed to the organization and to our employees. I especially worry about lower-income employees in our city government and service workers in the community, who are all very vulnerable as we enter this deep recession.
If there was ever a time to adapt, now is the time. However, I feel much trepidation about this leadership challenge. Can you provide some suggestions on how senior managers can help everyone adopt?
April 08, 2020
National Academy of Public Administration President, CEO, and fellow Terry Gerton joins the GovExec Daily podcast to explain how federal managers can handle the challenges brought to the fore by the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the government, the novel coronavirus pandemic is nothing if not a series of management conundra to solve. Agencies need to juggle the morale, safety, and productivity of their employees, while also serving the public within the context of managing the pandemic and all that comes with it.
April 08, 2020
National Academy of Public Administration President, CEO, and fellow Terry Gerton joins the Federal News Network podcast to discuss managing agencies during a crisis.
Many can manage. Fewer can steer an agency or a department through a crisis such as the nation is now facing. The National Academy of Public Administration has a long history of research into how to manage difficult periods. Longtime federal manager and now NAPA President and CEO Terry Gerton joined Federal Drive with Tom Temin for some perspective.
April 06, 2020
As the coronavirus pandemic spreads across America, governors, mayors, and county executives are facing — or soon will face — the biggest challenge of their public service careers. They ran for office to make their communities better places to live and work. Now they're full-time into saving lives.
But whether the emergency is a deadly disease outbreak or a terror attack, a hurricane, a tornado or any other large-scale crisis, the principles of management and leadership for dealing decisively and effectively with it are the same. And so, too, are the questions every leader must be able to answer, both for the governments they lead and for the people they are trusted to protect: What has happened? What do you know about it? What are you doing about it? And what should we — my family, my staff, my organization, my department — be doing about it?
April 02, 2020
What does it take to be a successful public leader during a crisis like a coronavirus pandemic? It takes fortitude, empathy, and creativity. But for many leaders, particularly those administering social services, it also takes something more specific: the ability to address inevitable program-service backlogs.
When a crisis hits, programs meant to serve a certain number of people are suddenly flooded and expected to serve exponentially more people. We are already seeing that with the historic increase of individuals filing for unemployment. Those people and their families not only expect timely help but, in many cases, urgently need it. When it doesn’t arrive, you’ve got a backlog of angry and frustrated people waiting for assistance.
I experienced that exact situation firsthand as a member of the leadership team at the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development during the Great Recession.
March 17, 2020
In our all-coronavirus/all-the-time world, there’s an enormous premium on leadership. What can we do to slow the virus down so we can eventually wrestle it to the ground? There’s a paradox here: the plan of action matters much less than we think.
As Robert C. Tucker pointed out in 1981 in his short and lively book, The Politics of Leadership, an answer is worthless unless a leader can rally everyone around a shared understanding of the problem. Consider Franklin D. Roosevelt’s stirring words during his first inaugural, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
It was a remarkable opening of the very first speech he gave as president. He didn’t define the problem in the technical terms of an economic collapse. He didn’t lead with a laundry list of stimulus ideas. He defined it as fear, and he told the nation he would transform that fear into victory. That was a gutsy call at a very difficult time. And it worked.
March 16, 2020
Last week the Ash Center at the Harvard Kennedy School hosted an online meeting that brought together more than 20 senior officials from America's largest cities and Professor Marc Lipsitch, director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, to help frame out facts and options in dealing with the novel coronavirus pandemic, a situation that none of the participants has experienced before.
The exchange raised complex new questions and at the same time highlighted the extraordinary importance of mayors, as well as those who hold corresponding elected positions in county government, who must make painful decisions while accomplishing the seemingly inconsistent goals of communicating bad news in a way that inspires confidence.