The Federal Management Playbook


The Federal Management Playbook

Leading and succeeding in the Public Sector

Stories of government management failures often make the headlines, but quietly much gets done as well. What makes the difference? In his latest publication, Ira Goldstein offers wisdom about how to lead and succeed in the federal realm, based on his decades of experience with two major government consulting firms and as a member of the US Federal Government’s Senior Executive Service.

About the book

The Federal Management Playbook coaches the importance of always keeping four key concepts in mind when planning for success: goals, stakeholders, resources, and time frames. The book packages activities around three strategic phases: create your offense, execute effectively, and play a smart defense. Its chapters address how to effectively motivate government employees, pick the right technologies, communicate and negotiate with powerful stakeholders, manage risks, get value from contractors, foster innovation, and more. Additional tips describe how career civil servants and political appointees can get the most from one another, advise consultants on providing value to government, and help everyone better manage ever-present oversight.

The Federal Management Playbook is a must-read for anyone working in the government realm and for students who aspire to work in public service.

Editorial reviews

I have long believed that government can be a powerful force for positive change. But too often, progress is hampered by preventable breakdowns in leadership. Ira Goldstein’s blueprint for effective management—even in the face of unpredictable challenges, like budget stalemates in Congress—offers valuable guidance to fully harness the power of our talented federal workforce to improve the lives of every American.

Chris Van Hollen
US Congressman


This book offers a penetrating overview of the challenges involved in managing federal agencies during a time of challenging deficits, record polarization, and rising public expectations. The book delivers numerous important insights, gleaned from the author's distinguished career as a leader in federal agencies and major consulting firms. Importantly, many of the cases covered offer positive examples of hard working senior managers achieving reform and change—a refreshing antidote to the prevailing cynicism about public service.

Professor Paul Posner
Director of Public Administration, George Mason University

Far too often these days, public service is denigrated. It's easy to point to failures―failures rooted in politics as well as management―in the administration of public policies. Ira Goldstein has a different perspective in The Federal Management Playbook. Government is important. It's not going to go away and it's enormously complex. We've got to do better. We need good 'bureaucrats'―skilled, committed, experienced career officials. We also need political direction and oversight, and these days we need competent consultants and contractors. The Playbook hammers home ways and means of working together to achieve the effective and efficient execution of public policies that we want and deserve.

Paul A. Volcker
Chairman, The Volcker Alliance

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Chapter summaries

Chapter 1: Key dimensions of success: Establishes a framework used throughout the book, defining Four Dimensions of Success that have worked for me over almost 20 years in government and subsequent decades as a consultant: goal clarity and alignment; stakeholder communications and impact; the right resources and tools; and attending to critical timeframes.

Chapter 2: Motivating and enabling your most valuable asset—your people: Focuses on the personal, hands-on aspects of motivating and managing any initiative’s or organization’s most valuable asset—it’s people. Discusses ways to manage “up” with supervisors, “across” with peers, and “down” with subordinates.

Chapter 3: Managing the complex new world of technology: Focuses on information technology (IT) adoption, management challenges, and opportunities. Explores successful and failures in federal tech deployments and how to manage the “three rocks” of cost, scope, and schedule.

Chapter 4: Creating and leading a well-designed organization: Addresses organization and resource management, including practical lessons and strategies specific to the federal realm, such as managing resources under a never-ending string of continuous resolutions; understanding the difference between the President’s budget and the real budget; and finding ways to do more with less and less and less.

Chapter 5: Communications—what’s the good word: Is about listening and communicating, using the tools and information all around us, as well as effective media techniques.

Chapter 6: Getting value from contracting: Is a discussion of acquisition and contracting—a federal-government perennial. The focus is on when and how managers and leaders can successfully achieve program goals within massively complex procurement requirements; and how to get the requirements right when writing solicitations, picking the right vehicles, and finding ways to ensure that the contractor’s goals are aligned with yours.

Chapter 7: Risk-based decision making: While the familiar elements of enterprise-wide risk management are addressed, the focus is on risk-based decision making and the importance of taking smart risks. 

Chapter 8: The wide wonderful world of innovation: Illustrates examples of where innovation was done well in the public sector and describes some keys to successfully finding and supporting innovations and innovators and to importing successful approaches from commercial and worldwide venues.

Chapter 9: A few tips for living with oversight organizations: Offers strategies and techniques for getting the most value from organizations such as GAO, Inspectors General, Office of Management and Budget (OMB), or Hill oversight committees, and where possible, co-opting them to your agenda.

Chapter 10: A few tips especially for political appointees managing civil servants: Addresses lessons learned for political appointees on how to use career civil service staff to achieve your and the President’s goals.

Chapter 11: A few tips especially for civil servants “managing” political appointees: Is especially for career civil servants on “managing” the political appointees they have to live with for up to eight years at a time.

Chapter 12: A few tips especially for consultants—and feds who use us: Is geared to consultants seeking to provide value to federal leaders and managers, as well as to those leaders and managers who hire us.

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In the news

Succeeding in leadership in the federal government
Source: Federal News Radio—December 16, 2016

Make the right plays
Source: The Public Manager—December 9, 2016

Tips for surviving your agency’s new political appointees
Source: Federal News Radio—December 2, 2016

Government Matters TV interview with Ira Goldstein
Interviewer: Francis Rose
Source: Government Matters—November 14, 2016

Keeping your agency on track in times of change
Source: GovLoop—October 26, 2016

Risk, a condition of life and work
Source: Federal News Radio—October 21, 2016

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