House chair renews fight to split OMB

Rep. Stephen Horn, R-Calif., has renewed his crusade to take the 'M' out of OMB. Rekindling a debate that has divided 'good government' proponents for years, Horn Tuesday reintroduced a bill that would split the Office of Management and Budget into separate management and budget offices. The new bill, H.R. 616, is the same as legislation Horn introduced in the 106th Congress. The bill has two influential co-sponsors on the House Committee on Government Reform: Chairman Dan Burton, R-Ind., and Rep. John Mica, R-Fla. "For years, management experts whom I respect-inside and outside the government--have said that the 'M' in OMB does not stand for Management; it stands for Mirage," said Horn in a House speech introducing the bill. Horn has long argued that OMB's budgetary focus makes it incapable of providing leadership on federal management issues. A separate Office of Management would anticipate issues like the Y2K problem years in advance, he said. Opponents of the idea contend management reform can go nowhere unless it is closely integrated with the budget process. "Everything in this town revolves around one thing: the budget," said Carl DeMaio, director of government redesign at the Reason Public Policy Institute. "Unless [management reform] is tied to the budget, there is little incentive for agencies to put management at the heart of their agenda." But Horn says this notion has not been borne out in practice. "The pressures and dynamics of the annual budget process have simply overwhelmed nearly every initiative aimed at improving management," he said in his House speech. OMB roundly opposed Horn's dream of a separate Office of Management during the Clinton administration. OMB did not return a call seeking comment on Horn's new bill. But, the Bush White House has pledged to give the deputy director for management at OMB additional duties as a federal chief information officer (CIO). Experts are unsure whether combining these roles will help or hinder management reform. "It's clear that if we want to improve management, information technology has to be the foundation," said Donald Kettl, a professor of public administration at the University of Wisconsin. "My concern is that if the portfolio of this person is solely information technology issues, we would miss a lot of other important management areas." While Horn has lined up three co-sponsors, a Capitol Hill insider said many members will wait for the Bush administration to outline its plans for management reform before commenting on H.R. 616. "It helps to have [Burton] as a co-sponsor," the source said, but "members will see what the administration wants to do before committing [on the bill]." Horn has previously opposed both the creation of a federal CIO and the idea of housing the position in OMB. He could not be reached for comment on how an Office of Management would potentially relate to a federal CIO. When he was chairman of the former House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology, Horn held annual hearings on splitting OMB. The House Subcommittee on Civil Service and Agency Organization, chaired by Joe Scarborough, R-Fla., now has jurisdiction over Horn's bill. A hearing for the bill has not yet been scheduled, according to Garry Ewing, staff director for the subcommittee. Horn is now chair of the newly created House Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Efficiency, Financial Management and Intergovernmental Relations.
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