Biden's OMB Nominee Vows to Ensure Transparency and Government Efficiency
Neera Tanden testified Tuesday for the first of two confirmation hearings.
President Biden’s pick to lead the Office of Management and Budget vowed on Tuesday to ensure transparency, government efficiency and regulatory reform with a focus on equity in her management of the agency.
Neera Tanden, currently president and CEO of liberal think tank Center for American Progress, testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee for her first of two confirmation hearings. She previously advised former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on her presidential campaigns and served in a top role at the Health and Human Services Department during the Affordable Care Act fight.
“I’ve spent the past 20 years at the forefront of some of our country’s most important policy debates,” Tanden stated. “And for the past decade, I’ve led a major think tank that engages many areas that OMB handles every day—from budget plans, to regulatory proposals, to efforts to make government more effective...I also know the role of OMB director is different from some of my past positions,” but know this role “calls for bipartisan action, as well as a nonpartisan adherence to facts and evidence.”
If confirmed, Tanden will lead OMB’s workforce, which was about 466 full-time employees in fiscal 2019, to develop the president’s budget request; oversee agencies’ performance, procurement, financial management and information technology; and coordinate federal rulemaking. She would also be the first woman of color and first South Asian American to lead the agency.
“To be frank, in the rulemaking process, corporations, special interests have a big voice,” said Tanden, on regulatory reform. The process should be focused on “social welfare, the public good and ensuring rules are protecting Americans in all their spheres.” She also said officials need to be mindful of how rules affect communities of color and underrepresented groups.
“We need to get the balance right,” she said. “Regulations do need to address the public welfare, but we should continue to use cost-benefit analysis,” a much debated step in the rulemaking process.
“Progressives generally want [Biden] to restrict the power of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, calling its cost-benefit analyses a giveaway to corporate America,” E&E News reported in December. “But more moderate Democrats think the reviews could be reworked to lessen their boon for industry and increase public health benefits for Americans.”
Tanden didn’t say specifically if regulations from independent agencies should be subject to cost-benefit analysis, but said that President Clinton’s executive order that details how OMB coordinates the executive branch’s review of significant regulations and guidance documents before they are published, “is still a very important rule.”
She affirmed that she would uphold the ability of OIRA, a division of OMB, to conduct independent analysis of possible regulations.
Tanden committed to renewing efforts to identify wasteful government spending and said she would work to craft legislation to help with this initiative, because “inefficient, ineffective programs really don’t help anyone.” She said the “Taxpayers Right to Know Act,” which requires federal agencies to be more transparent about the performance and costs of their programs and was included in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, will take time to implement. But she committed to working with Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., (a lead lawmaker on the bill) and his staff “in ensuring that OMB is doing what it needs to do,” so the law is “realized.”
Similarly, decisions on funding and grants “should follow the facts and evidence and the needs of states and it should not matter at all the political orientation of the state or who voters voted for,” she testified.
On transparency, she said, “I appreciate that policymakers need information to make good policy and on COVID or any other area I will work with the committee to provide you with information that you need.”
She said she also believes that guidance documents from federal agencies need to be “transparent and very easily accessible.” On Inauguration Day, Biden revoked Trump’s executive order that required agencies to put all of their guidance documents on an online portal, which was part of the Trump administration’s efforts to rein in “unaccountable bureaucrats.”
OMB in recent years has played a central role in helping agencies navigate government shutdowns, which Tanden said “hurt economic growth” and are a “particular problem and a sort of self-inflicted wound.” She said she would work with lawmakers on this issue.
In regard to inspectors general, she said, “I recognize the role they play in ensuring agencies are fulfilling their mission and the role that they play in ensuring that resources are delivered where they need to go.” If confirmed, she vowed to work on issuing guidance to agencies about how they must comply with IGs’ investigations because “that’s vital work” for taxpayers and members of Congress.
President Biden already has signaled his OMB will be much different than the agency under the Trump administration. Biden rescinded diversity training restrictions in which Trump’s OMB played a key role, revoked Trump’s deregulatory executive orders and, unlike Trump, has lauded career federal employees. Tanden was one of several appointees to praise public servants’ work during the transition.
Following her appointment Tanden was scrutinized for tweets criticizing Republican lawmakers, which she deleted. During the hearing Tanden said, “I deeply regret and apologize for my language.” She was previously in the spotlight for unintentionally naming an anonymous victim at the center of a sexual assault and retaliation at CAP at an all-staff meeting, situations with the now-shutdown news site at CAP and sparring with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and the more liberal wing of the Democratic party.
Tanden will next testify before the Senate Budget Committee on Wednesday morning. Both panels must favorably report her out of committee before the full Senate can vote on her nomination. Rob Fairweather, a career staffer, is serving as acting director of OMB in the meantime.
“Given how fast-and-loose the Trump administration played with budget authority, which is executed by OMB, Tanden has a tough job ahead of her in terms of restoring the credibility of OMB and getting back to solid constitutional and legal footing,” Dylan Hedtler-Gaudette, government affairs manager for the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight, told Government Executive. If confirmed, she will be able “to proactively disclose and report on things like apportionments,” which are OMB-approved plans for how to allocate budget resources, and “reinstate the custom of directing all federal agencies to cooperate with [the Government Accountability Office] when it is conducting investigations into potential violations of budget and appropriations law.”
Hedtler-Gaudette said, “recalibrating this growing power imbalance” between the executive and legislative branches is “the only way to ensure that the government is being a truly responsible manager of vital taxpayer dollars.”
Other OMB nominees include Shalanda Young to be deputy director and Jason Miller to be deputy director for management. Also, Biden appointed Pam Coleman, a seasoned personnel expert, to lead OMB’s Office of Performance and Personnel Management, with the goal of rebuilding and restoring morale in the federal workforce.
Eric Katz contributed to this report.