Bolten said to have stayed the course as OMB director

The announcement that Joshua Bolten will move from the Office of Management and Budget to the White House is causing little stir among observers who say that over his tenure as OMB director, he continued the management priorities set by his predecessor and implemented budget policies set from the White House.

President Bush announced Tuesday that Bolten will replace Andrew Card as his chief of staff, bringing back to the White House a loyal foot soldier who served both Bush presidencies in numerous roles, inside and out of the White House.

Many of the management initiatives that Bolten has focused on as OMB director -- especially expanding evaluations of federally funded programs through the Program Assessment Rating Tool and pushing agencies to better performance as measured by the traffic-light-style President's Management Agenda score card -- were put in place by Bolten's predecessor, Mitch Daniels.

Jonathan Breul, a senior fellow at the IBM Center for the Business of Government in Washington, said Bolten's focus on continued expansion of the PART scores to encompass all federal programs for the first time this year represents one of his major accomplishments.

"What you've seen in Bolten's tenure is a harnessing of the analytic power of OMB," Breul said. "They're integrating the budget and management aspects of OMB in a way that really enhances the president's leverage in making budget allocations."

He attributed Bolten's success in achieving this milestone in part to his close relationship with the president. "Bolten's really a close member of the president's inner circle … That helps the director, and it helps the rest of OMB staff," he said.

Philip Joyce, a professor of public policy and public administration at The George Washington University, described Bolten as "substantively a stay-the-course director."

This has generally been favorable on the management side, Joyce said. But he was less enthusiastic about the budget aspects. "Budget policy is really being driven from the White House," he noted, saying Bolten will pass along to his successor the high deficits that he himself inherited.

"The one thing that probably did get a lot worse under Bolten, and again I don't know that he was really responsible for this, but the administration started to use these big [budget] supplementals to support more activities" outside of the regular budget process, Joyce said.

Adam Hughes, director of federal fiscal policy for the Washington-based watchdog group OMB Watch, was also critical of the budget development process under Bolten. He said the work of career OMB analysts has been used to justify projections that are not necessarily supported by the numbers. "I feel we're in this fantasy-land attitude about our budget, and that's happening at OMB," he said.

OMB "deficit hawks" during the Clinton administration were instrumental in keeping attention on those numbers, Joyce said.

One real difference that observers noted between the management styles of Bolten and his predecessor is in OMB's relationship with Congress.

G. William Hoagland, the budget and appropriations adviser to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., described Daniels' relationship with legislators, especially those on the House and Senate appropriations committees, as "tense" and said Daniels sometimes was seen as not communicating sufficiently with members of Congress in advance of proposing budget reductions.

He said Bolten, by contrast, went on a fishing trip with then-chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee Ted Stevens, R-Alaska -- an illustration of his efforts to improve the agency's working relationship with Congress. Hoagland said Bolten also kept a lower profile on the Hill than his predecessor, often working through deputies.

The major unions representing federal employees, which have clashed with OMB over initiatives such as competitive sourcing, which can result in the shifting of some work areas from federal employees to contractors, and an effort to overhaul systems for federal employees' pay and promotions, expressed pessimism that their concerns would be mitigated by a change in OMB leadership.

"Although we do not know who will be the next OMB director, it is unlikely that Bolten's departure will mean anything different for federal employees with respect to the administration's wholesale privatization scheme … a misguided initiative that is as unpopular with the Congress as it is with the agencies," said John Threlkeld, a lobbyist for the American Federation of Government Employees.

"The appointment of Joshua Bolten as White House chief of staff is a clear signal that the administration plans no meaningful changes in the policies which hinder federal workers," said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, in a statement. "It is my hope that a new OMB director will look much more closely at a host of issues surrounding the White House drive to contract out federal jobs," she said.

Alex Conant, an OMB spokesman, said Bolten will assume his new White House role on April 14. He said no announcement is being made regarding the nomination of a new director, who must be approved by the Senate, or on who might serve in an acting capacity should the need arise.

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