Senators to nominee: Put ‘M’ back in OMB

OMB director nominee Jim Nussle testifies before a Senate committee Tuesday. OMB director nominee Jim Nussle testifies before a Senate committee Tuesday. Roger L. Wollenberg
The new director of the Office of Management and Budget must focus on management issues even in the midst of anticipated budget battles, members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee told nominee Jim Nussle Tuesday.

"We have tried to re-establish the 'M' in OMB," said Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, during a hearing to consider Nussle's nomination. "When I think about that, I think about working harder and smarter and doing more with less, about having the right people with the right skills in the right place, and also [about] being able to recruit, retain and reward."

In his opening statement, Voinovich said he believes he and Nussle are in agreement that "the 'M' in OMB has been forgotten." Nussle, who has extensive but somewhat controversial experience in the budget arena, having served as chairman of the House Budget Committee, made his commitment to the management side of the job clear.

He said that, if confirmed, he would focus on three specific areas of management. The first would be replacing the 60 percent of the federal workforce eligible for retirement in the next 10 years. The second would be keeping up with technology through OMB's e-government office, and the last, focusing on financial management within the agencies.

"People find money all the time; they find that they lost money all the time," Nussle said. "We pick up the paper and find that dead farmers are getting farm aid . . . Why can't we do a better job of managing those billions, let alone the nickels and dimes that go around?"

"Those are great ones," said Jonathan Breul, executive director at the IBM Center for the Business of Government in Washington, about Nussle's management goals.

Technology is an especially relevant focus under the President's Management Agenda, Breul said. He said the initiative can improve how government is run, "particularly if [Nussle] broadens it in terms of innovation and modernization."

In response to a question from Sen. Daniel Akaka, D- Hawaii, on OMB's dual role, Nussle said much budget-related controversy could be avoided through better management.

"The dollars are what usually grab the headlines," Nussle said. "The dollars are usually what we talk about fighting about and where the problems come up. But that could be alleviated with better management . . . I believe the management side of this equation is very important. The M comes before the B."

At the hearing, Nussle addressed several management concerns raised by committee members, including the practice of contractors managing other contractors and the high numbers of sole source contracts. Nussle said he understands that in some circumstances these practices are necessary. But he said in general, he considered the management of contractors to be an inherently governmental function and would work toward a more competitive and transparent procurement model.

In a pre-hearing questionnaire, Nussle addressed a series of other management-related questions. He reiterated his position that federal employees must perform all inherently governmental activities and that outsourcing of government work should not be based on arbitrary goals, targets or quotas. He also promised to work closely with the administrator for federal procurement policy.

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