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White House finalizing new management initiatives, OMB says

Nov. 10, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
Norman Dong is OMB's interim controller.
Norman Dong is OMB's interim controller. (Bill Koplitz / FEMA)

The Obama administration is developing initiatives to flesh out what President Obama called a “new management agenda,” according to a senior Office of Management and Budget official.

After getting agencies’ input, officials are now “sharpening the focus ... not just on what we want to do, but how we plan to go about doing it,” interim OMB Controller Norman Dong said at a forum on issues facing chief financial officers. “It’s going to support a lot of the things that we’ve been working on in the CFO community, focused more on efficiency and effectiveness.” He offered no details on specific endeavors and declined comment afterward.

The primary focus will be on financial management and accounting, with a goal of achieving something “transformational,” said Richard Gregg, the Treasury Department’s fiscal assistant secretary, at the same event, which was sponsored by the Association of Government Accountants in connection with the release of its annual survey of federal CFOs.

While the schedule for announcing individual initiatives has not been set, Dong added, “I think it’s going to be rolling out over time.”

Since last year, “the federal fiscal environment has degraded, making it formidable for agencies to perform effectively,” the survey says, particularly for CFOs charged with shepherding agency funding.

“Something’s got to give,” said Denise Lippuner, a partner with consultant Grant Thornton, which helped carry out the survey of more than 100 federal CFOs and other senior financial managers.

But Dong, a former CFO at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, sees benefits to the cost-cutting squeeze.

“If you’re in an era where resources are declining, then you should be questioning how you spend every dollar,” he said.

White House agenda

Obama has sounded a similar note, announcing in July that he wanted Cabinet members to come up with an aggressive second-term management agenda that “delivers a smarter, more innovative and more accountable government to its citizens” under the charge of OMB Director Sylvia Burwell.

While White House officials have said that the agenda will be built on the pillars of effectiveness, efficiency, economy and people, the administration has furnished few particulars or spelled out how the new framework will advance previous management endeavors.

At the July announcement, Obama offered a few hints at what might be ahead as he recounted efforts to get rid of overlapping information technology systems and make government information more accessible by putting it on the website, data.gov.

“So we’ve made good progress on all fronts, but now we need to do more,” he said.

He also suggested that the White House has not given up on consolidating agencies, assuming that Congress approves “fast track” authority that would limit lawmakers’ input on specific proposals for reorganizing the executive branch.

He first broached the idea of merging much of the Commerce Department and other agencies dealing with business and trade in his 2011 State of the Union speech and has since failed to push the proposal with much vigor.

“I guess I just don’t see a coherent management agenda,” said Hal Steinberg, who served as acting OMB controller under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Clinton.

“There’s always talk about what’s going to happen, but I don’t see that this is the same kind of overarching approach like the prior administrations.”

The job of OMB associate director for performance and personnel management has been vacant since Shelley Metzenbaum left in April, Steinberg added, while implementation of performance.gov, an online clearinghouse that tracks agencies’ progress toward selected goals, “took forever.”

An OMB spokeswoman did not reply to a request for comment. In an interview last year, Metzenbaum blamed performance.gov’s delayed rollout on budget cuts and the need to educate agencies on how to publicly track their performance “in a meaningful way.”

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