Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, expressed concern about White House teams promulgating a flurry of last-minute “midnight regulations” without sufficient review.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, expressed concern about White House teams promulgating a flurry of last-minute “midnight regulations” without sufficient review. Alex Brandon / AP file photo

Nominee for OMB Deputy Slot Promises Focus on the Presidential Transition

Senators quiz Mayock on management challenges, “midnight regulations.”

If confirmed for the final six months of the Obama administration, deputy management director nominee Andrew Mayock would focus on ensuring a smooth presidential transition and would seek to avoid “reinventing the wheel,” he told senators on Tuesday.

Mayock, who joined the Office of Management and Budget in 2013 after service in the Millennium Challenge Corp. and at Booz Allen Hamilton, was greeted warmly by members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The senators did, however, ask him to address concerns about the uptick in governmentwide improper payments, the threat of last-minute regulations during the coming change in administrations, waste in information technology procurement and the cumbersome federal hiring process.

The White House is creating “a space to deal with and talk about the transition, and people are engaged” in sharing institutional knowledge and memory documentation, Mayock said when asked about risks of forcing the new team to repeat past mistakes.

Not only is the Obama White House focusing on agency transition, he said:  it is preparing the management side of OMB itself. “We need to tee up the experience of past administrations more expeditiously and coherently for the next team to set up a presidential management agenda for the next eight years,” said Mayock, who would chair the Agency Transition Directors Council required in the presidential transition law enacted this spring.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, expressed concern about White House teams promulgating a flurry of last-minute “midnight regulations” without sufficient review. Mayock said regulation is among the pieces of transition planning, citing a December memo from Howard Shelanski, administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, reminding agencies that “2016 is a business-as-usual year.”

Speaking broadly, Mayock promised to “build on progress” of the Obama management agenda in helping “deliver smarter service for citizens and business;” achieve cross-agency priority goals; and follow the “four pillars” of efficiency, effectiveness, economic growth, and people and culture. High priorities include improving cybersecurity through digital services, easing of construction permitting for economic infrastructure and tightening background investigations.

Asked by ranking member Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., what Congress could do to help, Mayock suggested passing the requested $3.1 billion Cyber Security National Action plan to help agencies remove legacy IT systems. And he mentioned Congress could validate the administration’s ongoing effort to spread use of category management (bulk purchasing) in government procurement.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., asked about progress and the need for performance measures on consolidating data centers, which is on the Government Accountability Office’s high-risk list. Mayock said the effort has delivered $3.8 billion in savings thanks to a partnership with GAO, though it could be improved, he said.

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., said agency scientists have complained to him about OMB’s restrictions on travel to conferences put in place after the 2012 scandal over lavish spending by the General Services Administration. “The administration believes in the importance of keeping our competitive edge, and the technology and science communities are a priority,” Mayock replied. It may be time to review the controls against waste and “find the right balance,” he said.

Mayock agreed that it is disappointing that the improper payment rate has risen following years of decline, saying one solution would be to approve the fiscal 2017 budget’s request for greater resources in program integrity.

Acting Chairman Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., read a litany of the government’s management problems he’d heard from sessions with the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. They included abuse of administrative leave, management retaliation, veterans preference, inefficiencies, lack of direct hiring authority, disdain for the website, too many bonuses, and lack of management training in such areas as compliance with laws and regulations.

Mayock pointed to acting Office of Personnel Management Director Beth Cobert’s “mythbusting” work on the administration’s “Hiring Excellence” initiative as well as ongoing cooperation with Comptroller General Gene Dodaro to make GAO’s recommended reforms more visible.

In its final months, the administration retains high energy and enthusiasm for further reductions in the federal real property footprint, having already saved $300 million annually, Mayock told the senators, adding that there’s hope for cutting another 20 million square feet by 2020.

Citing the recently downscaled effort to consolidate far-flung components of the Homeland Security Department at the new campus in Southwest Washington, he said he would “stay on top of it so the next administration’s Homeland Security secretary would walk into St. Elizabeths rather than the office in Northwest Washington.”

Mayock ended by citing a President Obama comment exhorting agency officials to give their all like athletes:  “I’m ready to run through the tape and leave everything on the field.”