Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del. Charles Dharapak/AP

Senators Praise Performance Chief Nominee’s Private-Sector Experience

Job will be even harder in 'this era of stop-gap, crisis governing,' Democratic oversight leader says.

At a confirmation hearing senators persevered to hold Wednesday despite the government shutdown, President Obama’s choice to be federal chief performance officer drew bipartisan praise for her private-sector experience as a management consultant.

Beth Cobert, who has spent decades with McKinsey & Co., told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee of her background “working with small groups of people trying to make changes on a large scale, to make change happen and make change stick.” If confirmed, Cobert would also be deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget.

Committee Chairman Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., noted that the deputy director of management is one of the top three leaders at OMB, but couldn’t avoid the subject of the shutdown. “Unfortunately, delivering quality services is all the harder in this era of stop-gap, crisis governing, with agencies struggling to do the best work they can despite constant uncertainty about their budgets,” he said as he called for a bipartisan solution to the stalemate. “In the midst of this very partisan time, one thing that Republicans and Democrats agree on is that we need to make every effort to find savings through better government management.”

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., ranking member of the committee, promised to support Cobert’s nomination and get it through the Senate, noting that “the next 20 years will be difficult” without innovations in management.

Coburn said “we need someone at OMB paying attention,” adding that he has written more than 100 letters to federal agencies that remain unanswered, while the Homeland Security Department alone has so far failed to address 455 recommendations from the Government Accountability Office. “There are thousands of recommendations across the government that are not being addressed,” he said.

Cobert promised that if confirmed, she would be responsive. OMB Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell has made it a priority to establish an ongoing dialogue with Congress and other stakeholders, Cobert noted. “It is important to tap into the expertise of stakeholders, to listen to agencies and get people to own the solutions,” she said.

Giving detail from her work with telecommunications and insurance clients at McKinsey, Cobert said improving government management rests on four pillars: effectiveness, efficiency, economic impact and people. She looked forward, she said, to pursing “enhanced use of technology to find opportunities for savings, opening government data to help new business start-ups, speeding the permitting process, and achieving a first-class federal workforce to help assure the best and brightest are joining government.”

She stressed the importance of performance management that “creates a mindset and culture” of relying on data and metrics to measure results and to “simplify processes that make it better not only for the customer but also for the people doing the work.” Cobert added: “As you get more data production for use in decision making, people generating the data find their interest in having accurate data rises.”

Her business orientation was praised by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who called her nomination “fascinating -- we need hundreds more with your background.” Sen. Kelly Ayote, R-N.H., agreed.

Cobert demonstrated familiarity with OMB‘s ongoing efforts to consolidate data centers, pursue strategic sourcing to leverage the government’s buying power, and reduce improper payments through such tools as the interagency Do Not Pay List. Carper noted that the performance chief position is the “last major piece” of the president’s management team and invited Cobert to work with partners such as the committee, inspectors general and GAO to reduce waste, fraud and abuse. “You need to convey a sense of urgency,” he told her.