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Zients to serve as acting OMB director

Jan. 17, 2012 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director for Management Jeff Zients will serve as acting director when Jack Lew steps down as director.
Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director for Management Jeff Zients will serve as acting director when Jack Lew steps down as director. (Mandel Ngan / AFP via Getty Images)

Jeff Zients is returning for another tour as acting director at the Office of Management and Budget, the White House announced Tuesday.

Zients, currently OMB's deputy director for management, will step in near the end of the month for outgoing director Jack Lew, who is leaving to become White House chief of staff. Zients had previously served as acting OMB chief from July 2010 to November 2010, after then-director Peter Orszag resigned and Lew was awaiting Senate confirmation.

"Since day one, Jeff has demonstrated superb judgment and has provided sound advice on a whole host of issues," President Obama said in a news release. "With decades of experience, Jeff has been a tremendous asset to our team and I'm confident in his ability to help us rebuild an economy where hard work and responsibility pay off and the middle class has a chance to get ahead."

Lew is staying at OMB to finish up work on the administration's fiscal 2013 budget request, which is expected to be made public Feb. 6. But it will be up to Zients to represent the administration on Capitol Hill as the request makes its way through Congress in an election year, while maintaining a "pretty ambitious set of management initiatives," said Robert Shea, who served at OMB during George W. Bush's administration and is now a consultant at Grant Thornton.

"It's already one of the toughest jobs in Washington and now it's even tougher," Shea said. Even if the White House nominates a permanent replacement for Lew, Shea said, Zients could remain acting director through the November elections if the nomination runs into trouble in the Senate.

In choosing Zients to lead OMB at least temporarily, the White House passed over Heather Higginbottom, OMB's deputy director for budget since October. But Zients, who has been at OMB since June 2009, is more senior, Shea noted, while Higginbotton had a "rocky confirmation process."

Zients, who is also the first federal chief performance officer, previously served as CEO and chairman of The Advisory Board Co. and chairman of the Corporate Executive Board, two firms that provide performance benchmarking and management best practices for senior executives.

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