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Why David Walker should replace Peter Orszag at OMB

President Barack Obama is off on the search for a new director of the president's Office of Management and Budget. It is a crucial job at a crucial moment. The economy remains sluggish, the federal bureaucracy needs an upgrade, and the public is increasingly angry.

Peter Orszag has his reasons for leaving and explained his premature departure as a way to give his successor a chance to shape next year's budget. But his timing is still awful. There is virtually no chance that the Senate will approve a new director by fall. With dozens of high-profile nominees already stuck on Capitol Hill, Orszag is leaving as the rest of the Obama administration is still arriving, an all-too-familiar problem in the presidential appointments process.

Obama has three challenges in filling this key post.

First, he must find a candidate who can withstand Senate scrutiny. In theory, his best choice is a cabinet member who has already survived Senate review. But no one is safe in today's nomination process. Past research even suggests that confirmation creates an additional level of scrutiny as the Federal Bureau of Investigation checks the new answers to the national security forms against the most recent.

Second, even if Obama can entice a candidate to enter the process, there is no guarantee the Senate will allow a nomination hearing anytime before the November elections. After all, they have become experts at the frivolous use of personal holds to delay a host of other Obama nominees. Moreover, even if they allow a hearing, Republicans will likely drag it on as a platform for attacking the president's economic policies. There is nothing like a nomination hearing to do so--the candidate cannot challenge the attacks without jeopardizing his or her approval.

Third, the president already has other nominees to tend, not the least of whom is Donald Berwick, the beleaguered nominee to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The longer Senate Republicans delay Berwick, the longer they delay successful implementation of the president's health care reform will languish. Berwick was not a safe choice for sure--he has a long record of support for aggressive health reform. But he was the right choice. He would provide the strong leadership needed to push health care reform through an already over-loaded agency.

Orszag leaves a large hole in the administration, and not just as the "budget-cutter-in-chief." As I wrote last week, he has also taken a strong hand in as "management-reformer-in-chief." He is not the only OMB director to care about management, but he has taken a particularly strong interest in bureaucratic reform. Although his predecessors in the George W. Bush administration also worked the issue, they were up against strong Democratic resistance. Orszag has been quite willing to challenge his party's knee-jerk defense of trivial programs, duplication and overlap, and the antiquate personnel system.

His replacement must share Orszag's commitment to putting the "M" back in OMB. However, the current short-list is heavily weighted toward the "B" side of the director's job. Although there are two management experts on the list, they are considered long shots. Office of Personnel Management director John Berry and OMB deputy director for Management Jeff Zients would certainly push hard for further bureaucratic reform, they have little budget experience and are not known for their budgetary acumen. And their jobs have never produced a step up to the OMB director's post.

There is one candidate who might fill this broader job description, David Walker. Walker is the former Comptroller General and current president and CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. He made plenty of enemies in Washington for his strong stands on the budget deficit, but also led an agency with enormous credibility on management.

More than anyone under supposed consideration, Walker would bring the right blend of "M" and "B" to the job. Given the power to shape budgets, he would almost certainly expand the president's management agenda to include sweeping changes in both how government works and what it delivers.

Even though he has one of the best jobs in philanthropy right now, Walker should be on Obama's list. He would be an exceptional choice, has strong bipartisan support, and just might sail through the Senate. This is no time for a controversial nominee, but neither is it a time for the least-common-denominator choice. Walker would shake up the bureaucracy, tell the truth, and pump up OMB's reform agenda. Obama should talk to him as soon as possible. If he can't recruit Walker, at least he can get his advice.

By Paul Light

 |  June 23, 2010; 6:19 AM ET |  Category:  Federal government leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Why does it have to be someone that is in knee-high shivel of the politics in DC? I am positive there are thousands of perfectly qualified budget analysts throughout the feds with a strong management background. Why keep selecting the same stale, non performers who are purchased by corporate america? We wanted change! Let's START seeing it Obama!

Posted by: darbyohara | June 28, 2010 6:42 AM

It would be an absurd choice for Obama to pick David Walker - he would be too much of a force for fiscal responsibility and swallowing extremely harsh medicine, something Obama has no use for.

But I will keep my fingers crossed that Obama picks him anyway, even though it would be so uncharacteristic of Obama.

Posted by: Fazsha | June 26, 2010 8:00 PM

Do we really need someone from the payroll of the obsessive adversary of Social Security, Peter Petersen, in this post?
Petersen has not chosen to run for office on his projects, and instead uses his money to buy congenial opinions. His is a
very negative influence on our democracy and there are good reasons not to reward his proteges with office.....

Posted by: red21 | June 25, 2010 12:36 AM

While I think he would be an excellent choice, he is a Republican. He spent significant time (10 years or so) with the government, and he is now his own boss. And I have trouble imagining how he would coexist with Rahm Emmanuel. Those two would have to work closely together, and their temperaments and egos just don't seem to jive.

While this would certainly lead towards the "team of rivals" that everyone talks about Mr. Obama needing....could Mr. Obama really manage a significant clashing of wills? And if you thought Gen. Stanley McChrystal said some weird things about Obama administration personalities...well, it could be very very interesting.

Posted by: eeterrific | June 25, 2010 12:25 AM

Excellent idea!

Posted by: hungrypirana | June 24, 2010 4:16 PM

Excellent idea.

Posted by: hungrypirana | June 24, 2010 4:16 PM

Excellent idea.

Posted by: hungrypirana | June 24, 2010 4:14 PM

Yes, David Walker would be good choice for OMB.
Although the Republicans scream about the deficit, they ALL voted against forming the Deficit Reduction Commission which was THEIR idea - until Pres. Obama agreed.
Thankfully, Pres. Obama went ahead with the Commission which will release results in December.
Walker would fit in well with the Commissions' findings which will include a change in the tax structure that currently favors corporations and millionaires.

Posted by: angie12106 | June 24, 2010 11:47 AM

OMB should require DOJ and the other agencies to file the reports of their Data Integrity Boards required by 5 USC Section 552a(u). They are supposed to have a Data Integrity Board, subject to the Open Meetings Act and the FOIA and report complaints and remedial actions. An old DOJ article said that AG Thornburg had announced he was appointing a DOJ Data Integrity Board but I couldn't find anything after that. I had complained to DOJ in 2005, 2006 and 2007 that I was detained for over 4 months without a criminal charge, an arraignment, a Speedy Trial Notice etc. but DOJ didn't respond and then detained me again without a criminal charge for another 3 weeks. I filed an FOIA request to get the required reports and it was referred by DOJ to the Office of Information Policy. They wrote on 5/6 that they were reviewing their response but as of 6/23 there has been no response. DOJ has computer matching systems for incarceration by local contract jails and it also has computer matching systems to disqualify people from government programs and benefits including scientific and engineering grants. Why all the secrecy?

I sued DOJ in D of Columbia 09-0562 and I filed a motion there to get a copy of the 5 USC section 552a(u) reports but DOJ opposed it. That is available on PACER.

From: Tham, Mo-Yain
To: kaysieverding@aol.com
Sent: Thu, May 6, 2010 4:48 pm
Subject: RE: email error
Dear Kay,

Having examined the statute that you are citing, we can see that the statute does not require a privacy act complaint log. Instead, it applies to reports on computer systems that manage sharing of data between state, local and federal agencies.

Once again, a final response to your request is under review.

Mo-Yain Tham

Posted by: kay_sieverding | June 24, 2010 10:23 AM

David Walker would be an excellant choice, but BO probably would choose him as Walker has been a harsh critic of the US deficits.

Posted by: almelbe | June 24, 2010 7:48 AM

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