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Government Cabinet Making Published: Sunday, January 2, 2005 By: Dr. Manuel Ńngel Morales

Aiming at constructively transforming post-electionary issues into a work oriented and coherent plan, we can begin by looking at the process by which political administrative recruitment takes place. We can focus attention on the gradual decisions to be made by an elected gubernatorial candidate regarding the task of building or rebuilding his cabinet.

Initial cabinet making is a means of communicating the governmentís intentions. These political recruitment decisions signal to the people what will constitute the governmentís emphases, and whether its scope will be large or concentrated on a couple of core issues. When a governor selects his cabinet, he projects an image and forwards clues about the kind of leader he intends to be. Such clues often influence the conduct of those who receive them.

A cabinet selection can be interpreted in different ways. It affords preliminary evidence about the governorís scheme for running the government. Yet, cabinet making or political recruitment decisions are important because, unlike the campaign rhetoric and the superficiality of promises, cabinet members do not easily wither away. Rather, they will remain in office for sometime working to administer some of theIslandís main affairs and to influence the direction of policy.

The process of cabinet making deserves careful examination, especially if one interprets the past election as the outcome of coalition politics, as temporary alliances of distinct groups and as political interests for joint action.

As part of our research on the previous decades, we have talked with Puerto Rican governors and a number of their political appointees and collaborators and they have expressed having to cope with the great challenge of making the large scale bureaucracies responsive to the new policy premises of the particular junctures. The validity of this concern is apparently based on the results upon which they were elected. The rationale goes as follow. A governor is elected and engages in political recruitment, not only to respond back for political work executed, but also to carry out his influence in the policy-making process. However, the necessary organizational instruments to influence this policy process reside to a great extent in the unelected bureaucracy. Hence, since 1964, all governors and some cabinet members have raised the flag about the challenge of making government more responsive to the calls of their respective moments. The quest whether a technical or a political one was to get government under controls, and thus follows the new policy-making routes to energize economic and social ventures.

A fundamental part of coalition politics, is that embodies a number of persistent organizational properties that can serve as bases for conflicts and tensions, as well as for possibilities and solutions for gubernatorial or cabinet member directives. It is a requirement of democracy to develop capacity for bargaining and agreement around important purpose.

The working premises to be used while forming the cabinet for the next four years, are important when facing the facts that the November election was not a landslide for neither of the two parties. At best, it seems as if the legitimacy of government no longer emanates exclusively from one branch, but progressively spreads and extends itself to other institutional domains and idiosyncrasies.

There are, at least, three main strategies for building or structuring a cabinet. The first is that by which a selection of members is made to serve strategic clienteles represented in the population at large. The tactic here is one of entering into a coalition or a client group, whether inside or outside bureaucracy, by recruiting actors who already possess extensive relationships with critical client groups. A mayor difficulty of this strategy is associated with complaints from interest groups whose adversaries have succeeded where they have not. A second strategy is that of choosing a cabinet using technical, expertise or specialization criteria. Technicians are supposed to be endowed with a particular intelligence, mastery and to be capable of formulating programmatic options. Where the interest group oriented cabinet member is concerned mainly with establishing correspondence between his agency and the values of the groups he/she represents, the technician defines his/her role as aiming to satisfy the norms of performance. The most visible difficulty of this recruitment behavior is the blurt of the specialization syndrome, where alertness to political and social realities is lost. The third alternative is that of the generalist who responds mainly to the governorís priorities and programs, and whom for all purpose becomes the truly representative of the executive in the agency and to its client, interest, or power groups. The logic here is that the governor being elected by popular vote is entitled with some kind of mandate to allocate resources in the executive branch according to his, set of priorities. Thus, he needs a political-administrative ambassador to the agencies who will constitute extensions of this governmental view. Again, when confronted with the electoral vote borrowing reality it is not quite possible to speak of a clear cut political mandate to be executed. Facing a collage of interest that in the coalition form led one of the parties to tight victory, the generalist strategy which is not directly related to interest groups, but only engaged to the governor views of how to run government can face political difficulties.

A recommendation would be that of not following a pure strategy of cabinet making. Rather caution should be taken while making these selections or re-selections, and a mixed strategy should be followed which can combine elements of the three. One thing is certain: Exclusive political loyalty considerations should be avoided because this will mean organizing government around narrow criteria, which run oppose to coalition politics.

Cabinet members can be selected on the basis of their skills to play the role of the mediator trying to carve out viable futures for their institutions. The assembly of expertise, the exercise of discrete political judgment, and the capacity to read and interpret the peopleís signal in the service of institutional goals are part of the structuring rules while cabinet making.

The challenge if to organize a work system that can integrate a heterogeneous community of practices and interests to focus on shared issues and changes that have to be made. 

Copyright 2005 QBS, Inc.


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