Recycled Good Old Idea

Michael Jordan has been described in news reports as Oregon's first chief operating officer, but he is actually following in the footsteps of a model developed more than 10 years ago under a previous governor.There has been some publicity lately about the role Michael Jordan is playing in state government. Not the Michael Jordan who can dunk a basketball. The Michael Jordan who is director of the Oregon Department of Administrative Services, but functions like the chief operating officer (COO) of state government.

News about Jordan suggests he is the first person in Oregon's history to function as the COO. He may function with that authority, but he is not the first manager to do so.

In former Governor Neil Goldschmidt's administration, Fred Miller held the position of director of what was then called the State Executive Department. He functioned exactly like a COO.

Here are some aspects of the role Miller played:

       *  State agency heads reported on a daily basis to Miller, even though — then as now — state statutes specify that an agency director is named by and reports to the governor.

       *  Miller held twice-weekly cabinet meetings for the heads of major agencies and monthly cabinet meetings for smaller agencies.

       *  In addition to the functions of the Executive Department (overall budget, auditing and personnel management — including labor relations), Miller also met on a routine basis with agency heads to check on their progress.

       *  For his part, the governor would attend cabinet meetings on occasion, but left the daily management function up to Miller.

No doubt this is the role that Jordan plays in the administration of current Governor John Kitzhaber. Using his experience in Clackamas County and Metro, where he was the chief administrative officer, Jordan is directing state government, leaving major public policy issues up to Kitzhaber and his chief of staff, Curtis Robinhold. Jordan will probably be involved in those major issues, too, but his priority is day-to-day management.  

In one case, for example, he will control the process by which agency heads bid for exceptions from the state hiring freeze, which the governor and Jordan imposed recently to hold down state spending.

In another case, he will be in charge of the contract by which all of state government improves customer access through improved e-government services.

And he will also preside over the process by which state government tries to build budgets with a 10-year horizon, not just the normal two-year budget cycle.

Is Jordan's role new?  The answer is yes and no. Yes because, in the recent past, in the administration of previous Governor Ted Kulongoski, directors of the Department of Administrative Services functioned in a coordinating role, not a management role for all of the state government.

With Kitzhaber and Jordan that has changed, but the change is a return to the way state government did business more than 10 years ago.

The chief operating officer model is drawn from the private sector. It seems to make eminent sense for a state government that faces unprecedented financial challenges.

****************

         The author, CFM partner Dave Fiskum, worked in the Executive Department under Mr. Miller and watched chief operating position comings and goings for many years in his role as a state lobbyist.