OMB management chief headed to NASA, White House says

President Bush will nominate his point man on federal management issues as the new administrator of NASA, the White House announced late Wednesday. Sean O'Keefe, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, will be nominated to replace NASA chief Daniel Goldin, the White House said. The position requires Senate confirmation. O'Keefe would bring a wealth of management experience to the space agency, which went through nearly 10 years of budget cuts and downsizing during the 1990s. Besides his work at OMB, O'Keefe served as Navy Secretary and Comptroller of the Defense Department in the administration of President George H.W. Bush, where he developed close ties to Vice President Dick Cheney. But O'Keefe's move to NASA would also deprive OMB of its lead figure on management at a time when the office is pushing President Bush's management agenda in agencies and on Capitol Hill. OMB introduced its "Freedom to Manage" legislative package in October, and the office unveiled a new scorecard for grading agency management earlier this month. Even without O'Keefe, the management agenda will still be a priority at OMB, said Amy Call, acting director of communications at OMB. "OMB will continue to aggressively push the President's management agenda, as it is one of the President's key initiatives," she said. Call would not comment on who would assume O'Keefe's duties within OMB. O'Keefe became the administration's de facto management chief while the White House searched for a deputy director for management at OMB, a position that remains unfilled. At least two candidates have declined to take the job, according to sources with knowledge of the search. O'Keefe's departure would be a "monumental loss" for OMB, said Carl DeMaio, director of government redesign at the Reason Public Policy Institute, a division of the Los-Angeles-based Reason Foundation. Paul Light, a scholar at the Brookings Institution, described the situation in the terms of OMB's new color-coded scorecard. "This one is a yellow light for OMB, and a bright green light for NASA." But DeMaio stressed the Bush management plan can survive without O'Keefe because it has the backing of President Bush and OMB Director Mitch Daniels. DeMaio and Light both agreed that OMB must move quickly to find a replacement. If O'Keefe is named NASA administrator, his legacy at OMB will include integrating management more closely with the budget, which is one of the administration's five government reform initiatives, said DeMaio. But O'Keefe did not spend enough time at OMB to have a significant impact, according to Light. "He had great potential, but like so many appointees did not stay long enough to leave an impression," said Light. Following his service as Navy Secretary, O'Keefe served as Louis A. Bantle professor of business and government policy at Syracuse's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. A presidential management intern in 1978, he is generally believed to have achieved the highest rank of any graduate of the Presidential Management Intern program.
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