OMB pick pledges better integration of management and budget duties

Initiatives will include bolstering acquisition workforce, speeding hiring and improving program performance.

President-elect Barack Obama's choice to run the Office of Management and Budget promised on Wednesday to better align the agency's responsibilities surrounding the performance of the federal government with those related to the budget process.

Nominee Peter Orszag told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee during a confirmation hearing he would launch a version of OMB 2.0 to "see a more unified hold between the budget and management."

Wednesday's hearing was a part of a two-day process for Orszag and Robert Nabors II, Obama's choice for OMB deputy director, and was designed to deal primarily with executive branch management, although the topic frequently switched to Obama's proposed economic stimulus package and oversight of the Treasury Department's financial bailout. On Tuesday, the nominees testified before the Senate Budget Committee to discuss ways to turn around the economy and decrease the budget deficit.

In his opening statement Wednesday, Orszag laid out a number of priorities designed to make the government more efficient and "restore the prestige" of its workforce. He pledged to improve the hiring process and open more opportunities for promotion to civil servants.

"Roughly half of the federal workforce is expected to retire over the next 10 years," Orszag said in a written statement to the committee. "The result will be a substantial loss of experience and expertise, creating an imperative to renew the attractiveness of federal service. We want to broaden the appeal of public service, and we believe we can do so."

Orszag said the government needs to boost the acquisition workforce and improve training to better align resources with increased government contracting spending.

Dipping into the weeds of acquisition reform, he said the government should develop a more unified definition of inherently governmental work. He testified that, the government's online database of federal contracts and grants, was not updated often enough and was not sufficiently user-friendly.

The nominee also told senators that "IT investments need to be better aligned with agency budgets" and that greater oversight and auditing is called for to manage costs and reduce waste.

The hearing wandered through a bevy of additional management reform topics, with Orszag answering questions about reducing agency overpayments, improving real property management and reviewing Bush administration executive orders.

While the senators offered laudatory remarks for Orszag and Nabors, they cautioned that their jobs would not be easy.

"These nominations come at a time of unprecedented budgetary and economic peril for the nation, which means challenge beyond even the normal for OMB and those who will lead it," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., chairman of the committee. "The economy is facing a painful recession at the same time our government faces massive budget deficits."

In written answers to questions from committee members, Orszag outlined in greater detail what federal employees can expect from his stewardship at OMB.

"Under the leadership of the chief performance officer, we will create a set of performance metrics that are outcome-oriented and in line with public expectations and a central repository of performance data that will be available to departments and agencies, Congress, and the general public," Orszag wrote. "We view these data as an important source of information for improving the performance across the federal government."

Orszag said OMB would launch pilot programs at agencies to serve as "demonstration projects through which we can test our approaches to improve program effectiveness and efficiency, share best practices and further improve performance."

On Tuesday, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said he would speed Orszag's and Nabors' confirmations, allowing the full Senate to consider the appointments as early as Inauguration Day.

Conrad said he would seek unanimous consent from the full Senate to discharge the nomination rather than wait for a vote, which would not occur until after Jan. 20, when Obama takes office.