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Management agenda enters new era without top promoter

Few observers think that the departure of Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels will throw the president's management agenda into a tailspin. Quite the contrary, some think that the agenda will continue at an accelerated pace.

Mitch Daniels is a bit of rarity in Washington. He's an Office of Management and Budget director who many say actually understands-and cares-about the 'M' in OMB.

Daniels is often credited with developing and implementing the president's management agenda, which forced agencies to improve performance in five areas: human resources management, competitive sourcing, financial management, electronic government and linking performance to budgets. Talk to budget examiners, department officials and other knowledgeable observers and most will say that Daniels showed a keen interest in ensuring that the management agenda was a top priority within the administration.

"What Mitch did was bring a real focus to the agenda by developing and focusing on the five items. That was a master stroke," said Jonathan Breul, director of federal management and performance at IBM Business Consulting Services. Breul spent nearly 20 years at OMB, where he was instrumental in implementing the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act, before joining IBM late last year. "He brought a determination to implementing it. He kept coming back quarter after quarter, and budget after budget pursuing solid progress. We hadn't seen that kind of interest before."

Few OMB watchers think that Daniels' departure will throw the management agenda into a tailspin. Quite the contrary, some think that the agenda will continue at an accelerated pace, especially if the Senate confirms Clay Johnson as OMB deputy director for management. President Bush nominated Johnson, White House personnel director, to the post in January.

"With (Johnson), you have someone who can get things done. He's a closer," said Breul, adding that the issues are not going to disappear once Daniels leaves.

Nonetheless, unless the president finds a new director before Daniels leaves in a month, Johnson would be the only director- or deputy director-designee at OMB. Sources have suggested that his attention to the management agenda could be diminished until another top level official comes on board.

And, department officials will be looking for signals from Johnson and others within the White House that the agenda is still a top priority, said Barry White, director of the government performance project at the Council for Excellence in Government. He noted that other management initiatives dating back to Lyndon Johnson's presidency lost steam as administrations turned over. A mid-term drop in attention could hurt any momentum to institutionalize parts of the management agenda, in particular linking budget with performance, he said.

"It's good that this is the president's management agenda" and not Daniels' agenda, said Mortimer Downey, a principal consultant with pbConsult Inc. Downey chaired an OMB advisory board on budget performance integration. The fact that Johnson has a close relationship with the president and helped assemble the team of Cabinet-level officials will also be a big benefit, Downey said. "He knows all of those people and has instant credibility."

At least one OMB official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said there is little doubt the Johnson will continue to push the management agenda forward.

"Clay has a unique relationship with the president and is a tireless promoter of his agenda," the official said.