Obama Management Chief Sees Opportunity to Build on Contracting Successes

OMB Deputy Director for Management Beth Cobert OMB Deputy Director for Management Beth Cobert CSPAN

Asked what struck her most during her first six months in government, the coordinator of President Obama’s second-term management agenda said, “Every day, people inside government agencies and the contractor community are making real progress recruiting talent, buying smarter and making use of existing flexibility in the Federal Acquisition Regulation.”

Merely by “making these things more prevalent, we can scale them up,” Beth Cobert, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, told contractors at a Tuesday luncheon with the Professional Services Council.

“We expect to make adjustments if progress is not what we’d like,” said Cobert, a former McKinsey & Co. executive, as she reviewed the four “pillars” of the agenda contained in the president’s fiscal 2015 budget released in March. They are effectiveness; efficiency; economic growth; and people and culture. “The president’s management agenda is ambitious and cross-cutting,” she said.

Cobert stressed the search for efficiencies in expanding strategic sourcing and shared services in human resources, financial management and information technology. And she praised the General Services Administration’s pilot portal for small businesses called FBOpen as “more than just a search engine, but a tool that allows users to custom-search to match the right companies to the right government needs.”

As an example of government-stimulated economic growth, she noted that agencies since 2009 have released thousands of open-data sets -- with appropriate privacy protections -- affecting everything from consumer victims of credit card fraud to Smartphone GPS updates. The latest is President Obama’s new climate change compendium at Data.gov/climate, she said.

She highlighted efforts to grow leadership in the Senior Executive Service as well as recruit the next generation of federal leaders. “Despite what federal workers have been through over the last few years,” she added. “they have persevered with passion, professionalism and skill.”

Calling contractors “as patriotic as their federal counterparts,” Cobert described her first assignment since she won Senate confirmation last October on the last day of the government shutdown: chairing the interagency committee charged with updating the security clearance review process in the wake of the fatal shootings at the Washington Navy Yard.

With contractors worried, as one put it, “that the devil is in the details,” Cobert summarized the recent report by the panel led by the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. It called for improved information sharing between federal agencies and with contractors, a risk-based approach to reduce the current backlog of clearances under review, and common standards across government, she said.

“National security is no less critical when performed by contractors,” she said, noting that the process is shifting from “paper reviews to continuous monitoring” of holders of clearances.

Confronting “insider threats” to government, she added, is one of the cross-agency goals required under the 2010 Government Performance and Results Modernization Act, and “we’re committed to holding ourselves accountable for delivering results.”

Citing Obama’s recent executive orders affecting contractor pay and gender discrimination, she promised to solicit regular contractor input, adding, “Companies are already in a position to set a high bar as models for best business practices.”

In a subsequent session with reporters, Cobert was asked about the Senate’s passage last Thursday of the Digital Accountability and Transparency (DATA) Act, which, if the president signs it, will standardize formats for all agencies in posting spending data online. The Senate bill was altered from a House version to allow the Office of Management and Budget to share final authority over formats with the Treasury Department; the House version would have transferred all authority to Treasury.

Cobert would say only that “OMB supports the efforts on the DATA Act” by Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.

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