Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Saving the Secret Service

Failure to perform the most basic of protection functions for the President, his family, and world leaders visiting the President, is not acceptable.  Secret Service Director, Joe Clancy, was pointedly held accountable for his agency’s failures before the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee on March 17.

Defending his being blindsided by agent misconduct, Clancy asserted, “I brought in my staff. We discussed why I didn’t know prior to this event. We had a good stern talk about that”.

Members of Congress from both parties were appalled at Clancy’s bureaucratic response to agent behavior and operational integrity. 

“This is my first test,” said Clancy.

Clancy is wrong on so many fronts.  The first test of a leader is their first interaction with their organization.  Even how they enter their headquarters for the first time is a test.  Tests of leadership occur every waking moment of a leader’s tenure.  To think otherwise is to fundamentally misunderstand leadership.

Clancy admitted he was appointed to change the increasingly dysfunctional and unprofessional culture of the Secret Service.  He defended himself by noting his short tenure and that cultural change takes time.

“With all due respect, I’m just shocked by your testimony,” said Nita Lowey (D-NY). “Take time to change the culture? I don’t understand this one bit. It seems to me it should take time to help people who think this is the culture to get another job.”

Changing an organization’s culture is hard, but not impossible.  The challenge for Secret Service Director Joe Clancy is to actually want change, lead change, and embody the change.  He can learn from successful culture changes in the federal government.  There are only a few, but their lessons are universal. 


I was lucky enough to be on the leadership team that turned around the General Services Administration (36,000 employees), and to lead the team that forever changed the U.S. House of Representatives (14,000 employees). 

The Secret Service employs approximately 6,500 people, including 3,200 special agents, 1,300 Uniformed Division officers, and 2,000 technical, professional and administrative support personnel.   It is much smaller than the two strategic transformations that succeeded in creating immediate, tangible, and sustainable change.  There is no excuse for inaction.

Define the Promised Land

Change fails because there is no clarity of purpose.  A leader must visualize every aspect of a defined outcome.  A leader needs to see, hear, touch, and smell their end point and to understand the timetable for reaching it.  Whether the horizon is six months, a year, or three years, a leader must see that “Promised Land” and a general path to reach it.  Only then can a leader communicate that vision to others and to win converts who will assist them with the journey.


Gerald Carmen took the helm of the General Services Administration (GSA) on May 26, 1981.  His background as President & CEO of a regional network of auto supply dealerships gave him the clarity and common sense embodied in every successful small businessman.  He immediately visualized how core operational services and resources should be provided to the federal government and set about bringing on board an inner circle of experts who fundamentally grasped his vision.


I became the first Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) of the U.S. House of Representatives on January 3, 1995.  My experience included working with Carmen at the GSA, with Quality Management Guru Philip Crosby, and personally leading the transformation of smaller enterprises within the Peace Corps and the Federal Aviation Administration. I also had the advantage of absorbing the work of Jim Nussle’s House transition team.  Like Carmen, I quickly visualized the “Promised Land” and immediately set about recruiting an inner circle of experts who shared that vision.


A leader’s vision of the Promised Land should be their very first priority.  The only thing that is clear at the Secret Service is that the Clancy does not know where he or his agency is going.


Deploy Air Cover

A leader in government needs the backing of someone who will back their efforts early and often.  Only then will those they lead pay attention.  People both inside and outside the agency must realize that the change is a priority to those that matter and there is no hope for end running, appealing, stalling, or waiting out the effort.


President Reagan personally told Carmen he would have everything he needed to either shut down or transform the GSA within six months.  Speaker Gingrich placed ending corruption in House operations in his manifesto “Contract with America”.  Both Carmen and I constantly referenced our mandate and our patrons to embolden our change agents and allies.  Obama, and the Secretary of Homeland Security, except for some initial remarks, have been low key to the point of silence on changing the Secret Service.


Strike Hard & Fast 

Joe Clancy was appointed as acting director of the Secret Service on October 1, 2014, and became its official Director on February 18, 2015.  He had 168 days at the helm before his hearing.  Clancy took a small step in the right direction by reassigning at least four top officials to posts elsewhere in government. Little else was done.


Within his first weeks as GSA Administrator, Carmen forcibly reassigned a dozen top officials, leading to their resignations.  He elevated the three top whistle-blowers to key positions of leadership.  Within his first 100 days he had completely changed all the leaders of GSA, he had established a “War Room” to investigate and remove everyone associated with corruption, and he had created an Operations Center to implement and monitor business-based performance measures over every major GSA function.  Carmen had also begun implementing a strategic plan to run the GSA based on business principles and to use a combination of attrition and hiring freezes to flatten GSA’s layers of management and reduce its workforce from 36,000 down to 20,000.


In the first hour of my tenure as CAO, I fired the top 48 executives of House operations.  This lopped off the heads of everyone who had been complicit in, or ambivalent about, corruption.  Within the same hour, a team of outside experts became the “A Ring” for driving change.  By day 20, we had a strategic plan drafted for fundamentally transforming House operations.  By day 45, the CAO “A Ring” had detailed plans, complete with timetables and outcome measures, ready for 75 distinct reform initiatives.  By day 100, over two dozen of the reforms were already in place with the others awaiting committee approvals.


Unfurl Your Banners

Change requires ritual and symbolism.  Sun Tzu, the military genius of 4th Century B.C. China, stated it best, “In night-fighting, then, make much use of signal-fires and drums, and in fighting by day, of flags and banners, as a means of influencing the ears and eyes of your army.”


At GSA, Carmen, within his first three months, resurrected a World War II war effort poster – the American Flag with the slogan “Give it your best”.  The poster went up throughout GSA headquarters.  Carmen constantly reminded employees that they worked for America and that they should always “give it their best”.  Handing out performance awards and recognitions further echoed this theme as did promotions.  It inspired increasing numbers of career employees to become fanatics about performance and service.


At the CAO, we adopted a credo drawn from top global service providers - “We are serving our country by serving our Congress” within the first 30 days.  Top global companies’ fundamentals of service excellence became the CAO’s “Contract with Congress”.  Wallet-sized hard cards were given to every CAO employee.  Training in service and operational excellence was provided to all.  Awards and recognition, as well as promotions, reinforced the new culture and won over legions of long time House employees to the new world of pride and performance.


The Secret Service, 168 days into Clancy’s tenure, has no organizing symbol or slogan to rally believers to the new order.


Cement Your Sand Castle

Real change must transcend its inception.  Changes must be irreversible.  Bridges back to the old ways must be burned or blown-up.  The Promised Land must be institutionalized through new position descriptions, new titles, new mission statements, new performance measures, and new incentives. Even new colors and office configurations play a role. 


At GSA, Carmen immediately moved out of the vast ceremonial office and turned it into a general meeting room.  He also repainted the hallways of the headquarters building (the color scheme remains to this day).  His “War Room” eliminated titles and operations that had outlived their relevance.  New mission statements and position descriptions were installed as he eradicated the old order.  All remain in place to this day.  When corruption tried to seep into the GSA twenty years later, career employees used to the new culture of integrity to blow the whistle, defending the integrity of the reinvented agency.


The Congressional reform removed and sold off furniture, and worked with the Architect of the Capitol to completely change spaces as operations were abolished, downsized, or privatized. New mission statements, position descriptions, core skill requirements, and performance measures were created as old ones were removed or created where none had previously existed.  Twenty years and two partisan changes later, everything remains in place.


The Secret Service, and Director Clancy, have much to learn and much to do – if they are truly sincere.


[Scot Faulkner served as Chief Administrative Officer for the U.S. House of Representatives, and as a member of Carmen’s GSA Executive team.]



Friday, March 13, 2015



A successful movement needs three things: a cogent core of beliefs; the capability to affect tangible and sustainable change; and a mechanism for recruiting, motivating, preparing, and promoting its adherents.

M. Stanton Evans, who helped create all these conditions for America’s conservative movement, died on March 3, 2015 at age 80, after a long battle with Pancreatic Cancer. America has lost one of its greatest citizens and a true original.

Stan was at the epicenter of the Post World War II conservative movement. He graduated with honors from Yale in 1955 and became close friends with another conservative alumnus – William F. Buckley.

Buckley established National Review and a hub of conservative thinkers in New York City. Stan moved to Washington, DC and became Managing Editor for Human Events.

The modern conservative movement was blessed with the greatest thinkers of the post-war era, including Milton Friedman, Friedrich von Hayek, Harry Jaffa, Russell Kirk, Frank S. Meyer, Ludwig von Mises, and Richard Weaver.  Evans and Buckley compellingly applied their works to current issues, and added epiphanies of their own.

In 1960, at age 26, Evans crafted the Sharon Statement; the most enduring manifesto of the conservative movement. It became the credo of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), countering the emerging radical leftists on college campuses.

In Washington, Stan connected with other conservative political leaders, such as Barry Goldwater, H.R. Gross, and Walter Judd, and journalists like Rowland Evans, Robert Novak, Henry Regnery, Allan Ryskind, and Tom Winter.  He was one of the driving forces behind the presidential campaigns of Goldwater 1964 and Reagan 1968 & 1976.

From these experiences, Evans established the organizational foundations that would propel the modern conservative movement to its zenith during Reagan’s 1980 campaign, and his first term. 

In 1977, Evans founded the National Journalism Center (NJC), dedicated to preparing young people to be journalists.  He created the Monday Club, a free-wheeling networking luncheon for conservatives on Capitol Hill at the Hawk & Dove.  He founded the Joseph Story Society, the forerunner to the Federalist Society for conservative lawyers. From his NJC offices above the Hawk & Dove, Stan, accompanied by his loyal three-legged dog, Zip, crafted his most audacious and successful enterprise.

On September 24, 1979, Stan hosted a dinner for top conservative House staffers.  Josh Bill, Tom Boney, Pete Braithwaite, Rick Centner, Louis Gasper, Laura Genero, Carol Glunt, Karen Hoppe, Bob Moffit, Don Thorson, his chief aide Fred Mann, and I enjoyed an Italian feast at Toscanini’s and heard Stan’s vision of fomenting full scale guerilla warfare against President Jimmy Carter and the liberals in Congress.  This was the charter meeting of the “Chesapeake Society”.  Part study circle, part war room, it became the most successful opposition network in Republican Congressional history.  Eventually, Chesapeake comprised seventy-five Member offices plus committee and leadership staffs. It was a parliamentary wrecking crew, disemboweling liberal legislation, stopping some bills, and delaying many others.  The goal was to make sure as little of the Carter Administration was intact when Ronald Reagan arrived.  The plan was – the less liberal programs in place, the less effort would be needed to reverse or eliminate them.

On December 8, 1980, after Reagan’s landslide victory, Stan convened conservatives, involved in the Presidential Transition.  “Inchon” became the primary forum for sharing operational intelligence and maximizing the success of the Reagan Revolution. Its credo was “people equal policy” and focused on preventing “Evans Law” from manifesting itself in the Reagan era.  His famous law was, “When ‘our people’ get to the point where they can do us some good, they stop being ‘our people.’”  Co-chaired by Stan, members of Reagan’s Kitchen Cabinet, and myself, Inchon launched a generation of solid conservatives “behind enemy lines” in the executive branch (thus the Inchon reference).   Many of Inchon’s leaders went onto populate the Gingrich Revolution in Congress.

One other part of assailing the liberal pillars of Washington was to make sure conservatives had fun.  That is why Stan helped form the Coolidge Society, Conservative Club, and Conservative Cabaret.  These became models for today’s diverse array of conservative networking, social, and charitable enterprises, which help newcomers to the Nation’s Capital learn, and thrive, among the like-minded.  

One of Stan’s historic accomplishment towers above all the rest. Those who knew him are recalling his ceaseless devotion to mentoring young people.  His door was always open.  There was always an extra chair at any table where he ate and drank.  He always answered his phone.  He always had time to listen & reflect, provide advice & support, and take action to help.  He was a mentor to us all.

The formal obituaries declared that Stan Evans had no immediate survivors.  They are wrong.  Thousands of conservative activists owe their lives and livelihoods to Stan Evans.  We are all Stan’s descendants.

[Scot Faulkner was Stan’s friend since 1978.  He served as Reagan’s Director of Personnel, on the Reagan White House Staff, and as Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives.]

Sunday, February 22, 2015


What gives a community its soul?

A community’s sense of self, and its ability to steward that core identity for future generations, often lies in the hands of that rare citizen who devotes their life to the betterment of all.

One such person was Elizabeth “Budge” Blake.  She passed, age 91, on Friday, January 9, 2015, after a long battle with cancer.

Budge was a good friend and political “comrade in arms”.  More importantly, Budge embodied the moral core, leadership, intellectual vitality, and devotion to the community that sustains America’s civic culture.

Whenever you attend a local public meeting you rarely find a full house.  Usually it is a sea of empty chairs.  If you are lucky, your community will have a Budge Blake in attendance.

Budge would always be the one who attended even the most obscure public meeting.  She was also the one who took notes to share with others.  Her critical role was to act as a one person oversight committee – holding public officials and public processes accountable to the law and the citizenry.

Budge served both from the audience and in public positions, including as the Town Attorney, representing Bolivar in legal matters before the District Court as well as the West Virginia State Supreme Court, and as the town’s representative on Jefferson County panels.

Most people are content that their contributions to the future are the children they raise.  Budge not only raised a son and a daughter, she raised a generation of community activists.  

For over two decades, Budge recruited, trained, mentored, and promoted her neighbors to positions in local Government.  She helped establish the first Bolivar Planning Commission, filled it with like-minded citizens, and served as its President.  Many of Budge’s protégés went onto to serve as a majority of the Town Council and its governing panels.   This meticulous and strategic approach to fundamentally changing the government of a small town served more than 1,100 Bolivar residents.  Bolivar is a vital twin town to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia with a pivotal role in preserving the historic and scenic resources of one of the truly unique places in America.

Budge’s battles were to preserve history and the integrity of public processes.  She was well prepared to meet these challenges.  She graduated from Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, in 1946, received her Juris Doctorate degree from the Ohio School of Law at Capitol University and the University of Cincinnati College of Law in 1969.  Budge would be the one who found the key phrase or act that laid the ground work for challenge and standing.  Many scenic and historic acres remain intact because of Budge staying up all night diligently reviewing transcripts and documents.

America has survived for many generations and will survive for many more because Budge Blake, and people like her, wake up each day committed to helping our nation live up to its democratic ideals. 


Monday, February 16, 2015


What should happen to your family’s “stuff”?


Cleaning out your home as you “down size” or your parents’ home as they enter a retirement home, or pass, is emotional.  Our lives collect an array of physical touch stones. They range from intrinsically valuable to “tchotchke” or junk.  Parting with them tends to be hurried or harried.


The cleaning-out process usually ends in dumpsters, Goodwill, yard sales, estate sales, and eBay. There is a sense of loss along with closure.  Except for the rare “Antique Road Show” moment, the cash or tax deduction are a pittance of what it was worth to you and your family.


There is a way to turn your cleaning-out process into a life affirming and family bonding event.  Think about curating your family.


Look beyond the clothes and the kitchen items.  Look at what your family members have done with their lives.  You would be surprised at what items may be highly valuable to museums, libraries, and universities.  All you need to do is understand the world of the curator and engage your family in the curating process.


In my case, my father served in World War II and Korea.  He also spent his life leading wildlife management efforts for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and enjoying the outdoors as an avid fisherman and hunter.  I am lucky to have him healthy and clear minded at age 91.  I am also lucky that he kept his things in excellent condition.


The first step was to engage my father as a full partner in curating his life.  That meant having his complete buy-in to donate his artifacts and documents.  We discussed how there was a way for him to control his legacy for generations to come instead of leaving it to the randomness of family members.


We worked together on organizing his files and materials.  My father revisited his career as various items triggered poignant memories.  We learned much from each other and had more quality time together than during many previous years.


The next step was assessing who wanted to maintain my Dad’s legacy.  Thankfully, the Fish & Wildlife archive and museum is located at the National Conservation Center only fifteen miles from our home.  They were thrilled at receiving my Dad’s conservation materials and spent hours video-taping his recollections as he reviewed his files. 


Even more valuable were my Dad’s fishing and hunting materials. His fly fishing equipment included flies he had tied himself - that were works of art, signed custom fly rods, and fishing nets from his family that dated back to the 1920s.  His hunting items included duck and goose decoys he had hand carved, dating back into the early 1950s. They were all in perfect condition.  The curatorial staff was in the process of acquiring loans from numerous private collections for travelling exhibits on fishing and duck hunting.  In one windfall they had complete collections from one source, fully documented.  My Dad’s hunting and fishing items were on public display within days of donation.


The multiple meetings with the curators became highpoints in my Dad’s life.  He was the center of attention, with museum and archive professionals weighing on his every word.  These were moments that gave him pride in what he did, a sense of still being relevant, and the peace of mind that one of his life-long aspirations – inspiring young people to love nature – would be fulfilled for generations to come. 


The donation of his World War II and Korean War items unfurled the same way.  In this case, it was the U.S. Army’s Heritage Center near the War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania – two hours from my Dad’s home.  My Dad did something unique in World War II.  He brought along a “Baby” Brownie camera to the front lines of the 10th Mountain Division fighting its way through the mountains of Italy.  His photos of battles, fortifications, liberated towns, German POWs, and his comrades were in perfect condition and had detailed notes on where they were taken and who was in them.  He also had kept his uniforms in mint condition along with a Nazi flag obtained when he led the capture of a German headquarters.


Once again, curators spent hours interviewing my Dad.  They were amazed at the quality and quantity of artifacts.  My Dad’s detailed written descriptions and clear recollections provided solid provenance for every item. Once again, my Dad felt honored to be telling the story of his unit and knowing that his materials would help scholars for many years to come.


These scenes of making the day of both a loved family member and curators can happen for anyone.  Local museums want to tell the story of their community.  Universities want to preserve the works of their alumni.  National collections want to inspire others with tangible examples of unique cultures, professions, hobbies, and lifestyles. 


All it takes is a willingness to learn about your family and to find the right match.  The new memories and new bonds will be rejuvenative and revelatory for all involved. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015


Quality customer service is a foundational aspect of business success.  A company’s front line personnel are its public face.  They are the ongoing personification of its brand integrity and “value proposition”.

The U.S. Postal Service recently proved itself clueless of this truism. USPS senior executives dismissed as “irrelevant” a new Inspector General report asserting that poor customer service and “rude” employees could cost the agency $300 million during this fiscal year.

The Inspector General explained how successful retailers “ensure workers are up to the task of face-to-face customer interaction before placing them in a position that requires it”.  USPS union leaders joined management in dismissing these findings - asserting hiring more employees would take care of negative service.

Anyone who has received sullen service from front line government employees, like at the Department of Motor Vehicles, knows that there is clearly room for improvement.  Yet government, more often than not, remains on the trailing edge of customer-focused service.

Thankfully, there are exceptions.

During my years with Philip Crosby’s quality management consulting firm, one of my largest clients was the Smithsonian Institution.  It was a wonderful client as senior leaders were fully committed to and engaged in establishing a vibrant quality culture.  It was exhilarating advising behind the scenes of the world’s greatest museum complex.  What happened in front of the scenes was equally revelatory.  

Smithsonian executives identified public exhibits as an opportunity to showcase their commitment to quality management.  We explored the disconnect between priceless artifacts and a quality visitor experience.   We arrived at an epiphany – the public face of the Smithsonian was not its World Renown scholars and curators, but its guards.

Smithsonian guards, mostly minority and high school educated, were only connected to the artifacts they protected by location. This was to change.

Over the course of a year, we facilitated dialogues between curators and guards.  Once guards were treated as respected members of the exhibit team a number of positive things occurred. First, they took ownership of the exhibits.  They took pride in “their exhibit”, made an effort to learn about the exhibit, and became proactive in answering tourist questions.  They also began providing more detailed information, improving the tourist experience.

The next thing that happened was guards offered suggestions to curators about the exhibits.  They shared insights on how tourists moved about the exhibits.  This included pointing out the visitor flow patterns they observed.  Bottle necks and cul-de-sacs were flagged.  They also shared tourist questions arising from incomplete or unclear signage and descriptions. Most importantly, they identified how artifacts got damaged by tourists bumping or touching items.

Curators and managers quickly realized the fundamental value of guards to the entire cycle of public exhibits. More experienced guards were invited to review and critique mock-ups of new exhibits to assure efficient visitor flow and eliminate hazards to artifacts. Curators gave tours to the guards assigned to exhibits to help them become fully knowledgeable.

The results were immediate and substantial.  Incidents of damaged displays were cut in half.  Visitor flow improved, as did guard moral and positive visitor feedback.  Today, fully engaging guards as full team members in public exhibits is a standard throughout the museum world.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Stopping Radical Islam

Also published at:

Forty world leaders, from every political and religious affiliation, led over a million people, from every political, ethnic, and religious affiliation, through the streets of Paris.  It was a vivid and historic show of solidarity for Western civilization and its freedoms.

What next?  Cynics have already said this high spirited unanimity will pass as politicians and normal people return to their daily lives. 

It does not have to be that way. 

There are strategic actions that can be taken to stop radical Islam, and its terrorist legions, in their tracks.

Cyber Warfare

It is time to shut down the social networks and websites used by radical Islam to recruit, fund raise, and mobilize. All internet services should ban websites associated with radical Islam.  Youtube and other media share sites should ban all images and videos that promote ISIS, Al Queada, BokoHaram, al-Shabaab, and all other terrorists groups. Except on legitimate news sites, these images should be banned the same way NAZI images are banned – across the globe.

All nations should launch a coordinated assault to crash and keep off the air all websites, servers, and communication technologies of violent Islamic groups.   There should also be a decision by all news outlets to not show any videos or messages from these groups.

Dismantle Sharia Controlled Zones

Western governments must dismantle radical Islamic “no entry” zones.  This can be done by passing laws enforcing the host country’s laws within all jurisdictions, and providing funds for law enforcement to be active and visible in these enclaves of hate.  Alternatively, Congress and other parliaments should threaten to end funding support of municipal governments that refuse to move against radical Islamic zones.

Over the last decade, Islamic radicals have established these “no entry” zones in major Western cities.  Block after block of major cities, in Paris, London, Detroit, Minneapolis, and many others, are ruled by radical Islamic councils.  Sharia law is enforced and holds itself exempt from host country laws and jurisdiction.

Alhurra, and other courageous news outlets, have exposed these beacheads of radical Islam.  This includes recording “no entry” residents proudly declaring that they are not immigrants, but “colonists for the Caliphate”.  These enclaves are recruiting hubs and staging areas for terrorism.  They exist because the West values religious freedom.  They exploit the West’s tolerance and naiveté to promote intolerance and hate.

End Radical Islamic Madrassas

Wahhabi curriculum must be ended in all Islamic religious schools.  National and local governments must review and approve curriculum, educational materials, and faculty for these schools.  They are the primary incubators of treason against host governments, and for fermenting terrorism designed to destroy Western civilization and its values of freedom. 

This is a global war for hearts and minds. The West is fighting a losing battle unless these poisonous training sites are closed.

Wahhabism promotes the most radical interpretation of the Koran.  This includes complete oppression of women, hatred of the West, and approval of jihad against the West and even against more moderate Muslims. Wahhabi leaders have approved destruction and desecration of religious and historic sites across the world.

Promote Islamic Moderates

Western media needs to promote moderate Muslim leaders.  Western universities, think tanks, and other forums need to bring Muslim voices of reason into high profile public dialogues.

Recently, some Islamic leaders and commentators have promoted the need for the equivalent of a Council of Nicea or Vatican II to bring their religion into the modern world.  Some have referenced aggiornamento, a Catholic term meaning a sustained effort to embrace modernity in both doctrine and rite.

There are also substantial Muslim groups, such as the Indonesian- based Pengurus Besar Nahdlatul Ulama (“Awakening of Scholars”), the largest Muslim organization in the world, that promote a peaceful and forward looking interpretation of the Koran.  These groups need larger stages upon which to counter the radicals.

Use Oil as a weapon

America needs to use its growing energy independence as a strategic weapon.  American and Canadian oil needs to be pumped and subsidized until oil prices are driven below $30 barrel.  The West can then do to the oil producing Arab nations what they have done to the West since the mid-1970s.  The West can dictate ending funding of radical Islamic Madrassas, ending banking and funding of terrorist groups, and ending safe havens for terrorists. That would be exchanged for stabilizing and increasing oil prices.  If the Arab states refuse to work with the West, they will see their billions in revenue evaporate back in to the desert. 

This is war – civilization must win.

[Scot Faulkner has served in executive positions in the government and the private sector.  He has worked in the Middle East since 2002, including Bahrain, Egypt, Qatar, and the UAE. ]


Tuesday, December 30, 2014


How can the new Republican Congress signal that they are the co-equal branch of government? How can Republicans avoid being out maneuvered by President Obama?

It’s time to NOT invite President Obama to give his State of the Union Address before Congress. This is a clear and simple way Republicans can, in one master stroke, register their opposition to Obama’s Executive Orders and realign the balance between the Legislative and Executive Branches.
There is no official reason for the speech. There is not even a requirement for it to be annual. Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution only requires the President to “from time to time give to the Congress information of the State of the Union”.

There is also no requirement that Congress grant the President the use of their Chamber for this ritualized infomercial.

On January 16, 2014, Rep. Eric Cantor sponsored H.Con.Res.75 authorizing “That the two Houses of Congress assemble in the Hall of the House of Representatives on Tuesday, January 28, 2014, at 9 p.m., for the purpose of receiving such communication as the President of the United States shall be pleased to make to them.” What if, in January 2015, no one sponsored a Concurrent Resolution or voted for it?

Republicans would prove that the Congress is a co-equal branch, not subservient to the President. They would not become a pack of trained seals clapping at dozens of cheap applause lines. They would not be the stage set for Obama's grandstanding to the nation and helping the media continue their “Obama is on the rebound” narrative.

They would also avoid being put in multiple political binds as the President introduces controversial people, daring the Republicans not to applaud. This may include Michael Brown’s and Eric Garner’s parents sitting next to the First Lady. Obama might even introduce Al Sharpton or some newly pardoned illegal aliens from his VIP delegation in the Chamber’s balcony.

Not inviting the President also brings the State of the Union back to its traditional position in American government.

President George Washington delivered the first State of the Union speech in person before a Joint Session of Congress on January 8, 1790. Since then, there have been 223 opportunities for Presidents to deliver their report. Presidents have delivered their report as a speech before a Joint Session of Congress only 98 times (44%). The other 125 times were through written communication.
George Washington and John Adams delivered their State of the Union reports as speeches, but Thomas Jefferson was more comfortable with the written word. For 113 years, no other President delivered a State of the Union speech until Democrat Woodrow Wilson on December 2, 1913. President Warren Harding continued this new practice as did Calvin Coolidge, once.

For ten years, Congress did not have to arrange a Joint Session for the State of the Union Address. Then Democrat Franklin Roosevelt asked for the forum in 1934. In 1946, President Harry Truman opted out of a formal speech because, during the previous nine months, he had spoken to five Joint Sessions of Congress relating to the end of World War II. In 1956, President Eisenhower opted out of the speech because he was still recovering from his September 24, 1955 heart attack.

No one really missed the Presidential vanity hour. Twenty six Presidents, including two of America’s greatest Presidential orators, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, choose not to speak to the Congress. Congress still operated. Legislative business continued.

Presidents issue a detailed Budget Message a few weeks after the State of the Union Report. This is a more tangible and actionable communication of the Administration’s priorities. Far more budget initiatives become reality than the dozens of empty promises made in a State of the Union address.
Congressional Republicans have an historic opportunity to reinvent government in the 21st Century.

They can start by ending this annual narcissistic charade, which promotes the image of a dominant Executive Branch. Let the President speak from the Oval Office - that would more than meet the Constitutional requirement.

[Scot Faulkner served as Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives and on President Reagan’s White House Staff]