The Trump administration’s nominee for the top governmentwide management slot promised transformational change for the federal workforce at her confirmation hearing on Thursday, promising to effect change by leaning on her decades of experience in the private sector.
Margaret Weichert, President Trump’s nominee to serve as the Office of Management and Budget’s deputy director for management, has worked primarily for private industry, only coming to government when she joined OMB as a senior adviser earlier this year. Weichert conceded she still had a lot learn about the inner workings of the federal bureaucracy and her role as its top management official, often punting with promises to learn and research various issues when lawmakers asked specific questions.
In an interesting shift, Weichert agreed with senators on a panel of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee who suggested efforts to reduce the workforce should be more strategic than relying upon attrition. OMB Director Mick Mulvaney told agencies through guidance issued earlier this year to develop near- and long-term plans to cut their workforces. Agencies throughout government have said they are relying upon attrition to meet those goals. Weichert also agreed that it is critical to government operations to maintain high morale among federal workers.
Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., emphasized that point, urging the nominee not to focus too heavily on cuts.
“We need to empower fed agencies with the resources, talent and the expertise they need to carry out their vital missions,” Peters said, “instead of undermining them or making blunt policy choices.”
Weichert leaned heavily on her private sector background and the value that experience would bring to her new position in government. She highlighted the patents companies where she has worked have earned for innovations in fields such as payments management.
“My hope, if confirmed, is to bring this spirit of innovation, combined with private sector practices, to drive greater efficiency, effectiveness and transparency in federal management functions,” she said.
Weichert said her top three priorities as the potential head of the “M” side of OMB would be IT modernization; data, accountability and transparency; and “people and workforce for the 21st century.” She specifically highlighted the need to streamline the various hiring authorities available to federal agencies and to generally speed up the federal onboarding process.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., pressed Weichert to provide more information to Congress on the Trump administration’s plan to cut the federal workforce and reorganize every agency. No one from OMB has provided an update to her committee, she said, and the administration has not even confirmed that every agency turned in their reorganization plans by the Sept. 30 deadline.
“My problem with all of this is if we’re serious, the reorganization needs to be a bipartisan process,” Heitkamp said after the hearing. “Otherwise there’s no permanence to it.”
Weichert agreed to comply with congressional oversight, but said she was “not super informed” on the specifics of who was involved in crafting the overhaul plans when asked if federal employees and stakeholders should have a say in shaping them. Heitkamp warned Weichert that part of the job was having to be “the bad cop.”
The nominee appeared poised to sail through the confirmation process, with Heitkamp saying she hoped to see Weichert confirmed quickly.
“I hope we can expedite your nomination,” the senator said. “I find you perfectly well qualified.”