OMB centralizes control of management issues

In a departure from recent practice, top Office of Management and Budget officials are playing a central role in developing and implementing a strategy for managing the federal government.

The No. 2 official at the Office of Management and Budget is personally involved in nearly every management initiative of the Bush administration, invigorating the President's management agenda but raising questions as to whether OMB has the staff to carry out reforms, according to several public administration experts. Although his position carries numerous budget duties, OMB Deputy Director Sean O'Keefe has become the administration's point man on management, chairing the just-revived President's Management Council and representing the administration on a General Accounting Office panel that is studying federal outsourcing issues. "What's really interesting here is the way that Sean O'Keefe is centralizing management authority around himself," said Paul Light, a scholar at the Brookings Institution. "There's no deputy director for management in sight, and O'Keefe has become the chief hit man for rejecting everything from [a recent] e-government bill to civil service reform, and is clearly the engine behind the outsourcing initiative." O'Keefe and OMB Director Mitch Daniels have taken a greater interest in management issues than their counterparts in previous administrations, according to a veteran of Vice President Al Gore's reinventing government campaign. "What I'm seeing happening at OMB that I think is neat is that the profile of management is increasing and there is a lot more attention being paid to it in this administration in terms of the director and deputy director taking personal leadership on this," said John Kamensky, former deputy director of Gore's National Partnership for Reinventing Government and current director of the managing for results practice at the PricewaterhouseCoopers Endowment for the Business of Government. O'Keefe and Daniels have assumed more management duties in part because the administration has not chosen a deputy OMB director for management. The absence of a top management official made O'Keefe a natural choice to chair the President's Management Council, according to OMB spokesman Chris Ullman. "We think Sean is the best person [to chair the council] in terms of knowledge and position in the OMB structure in the absence of a deputy director for management," he said. Ullman said the administration has not yet decided whether O'Keefe will remain as chair when a deputy director for management has been chosen. Ullman added the administration is "actively searching" for a top management official. Robert O'Neill, president of the National Academy of Public Administration, is serving as a temporary management counselor to Daniels until Sept. 7. While Light believes a deputy director for management is still necessary, he questioned what duties the position should have in a period of budget surpluses. The top management position was created in a time of large federal deficits to ensure that someone at OMB paid attention to management, Light said. The Bush administration has announced that the management deputy will act as a federal chief information officer. Besides this role, the deputy will provide political leadership on management issues, much like O'Keefe is now doing, said Carl DeMaio, director of government redesign at the Reason Public Policy Institute. "Their job is to provide continuous ongoing leadership for management reform to reflect the management priorities of the administration," said DeMaio. But the lack of a large staff of civil servants focusing on management at OMB will hinder the efforts of O'Keefe and the eventual management czar, Light said. "O'Keefe has almost no staff on which to depend--neither, for that matter, does the deputy director for management," he said. Still, the active presence of O'Keefe and Daniels in management affairs is winning over career officials at OMB, according to Kamensky. "The culture in OMB is you just take direction from the director. I'm hearing a great deal of enthusiasm from OMB career staff about the role they are taking," he said.