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.
June 23, 2010; 6:19 AM ET |
Federal government leadership
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