OMB Watch says Orszag ‘made budget cool’

By Max Cacas
Federal News Radio

The next budget that President Obama will send to Congress will ultimately be the responsibility of someone new. That’s because Peter Orszag yesterday made official his plans to leave as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget by the end of this summer.

For some perspective on the legacy of the President’s first budget director, we turned to Gary Bass, executive director of the D.C.-based group, “OMB Watch”, who says Orszag “has had a very successful run as budget director.”

He has been running the organization at a time when there’s been significant crises as well as opportunity. He’s well known for having played a key role in the President’s stimulus package. He’s well known for his role in the push to get health care reform. Maybe what he is less well known for is encouraging OMB to have agencies change the way government operates. Much greater emphasis on how to reduce waste, fraud and abuse, how to increase government efficiencies, and how to maximize use of technologies, to strengthen both government operations, as well as to promote government transparency.

During Orszag’s tenure, OMB transitioned from performance management of government agencies using the “red light / green light” chart of largely self-reported data, to one where online dashboards now provide nearly instantaneous readings of key agency performance indicators. Bass says that’s consistent with a concern Orszag voiced prior to taking office.

When Orszag was confirmed in his testimony before the Senate, he talked about how that kind of scoring system has to be re-thought, and that the “red light/green light/yellow light” approach doesn’t provide enough relevant information. And he went about doing that in a very careful way, to develop the right kinds of measures to talk about how government is performing.

Wryly commenting, perhaps, on the minor tabloid headlines the OMB chief has garnered for his personal life, Bass says simply, “He’s made budget cool! How’s that? Having someone who is high-profile, has enormous political skill, and enormous policy substance, and is just a nice person, is just the right combination for someone who has had a successful tenure, and whatever he has in store for his future, whatever he goes on to take on next.”

At the White House, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs took note of Orszag’s accomplishments as he confirmed the OMB director’s plans to step down during Tuesday’s daily press briefing.

“Well, I would say obviously Peter has served alongside a valuable and within a valuable economic team that has faced the greatest economic crisis that any President has faced since the Great Depression. It has taken — it’s an enormous task. Peter has been instrumental in, for instance, this year’s plan to freeze non-security discretionary spending for three years and has decided to leave before we get into the creation of the next budget. He’s been here for two budgets, and we’ll look for a replacement.”

Gibbs had no comment on who that replacement might be.

Meanwhile, from Capitol Hill, reaction has come from some of the lawmakers with which Orszag has been working for the last 18 months as OMB Director, and before that, as head of the Congressional Budget Office.

Senator Joseph Lieberman (ID-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said, in an e-mail release, “”Peter Orszag has served his country at a time of unprecedented budgetary and economic peril, facing challenges beyond the norm for OMB and those who lead it. He has been instrumental in putting together a major recovery package, without which we might be facing a much worse situation today.”

Rep. Edolphus Towns (D.-NY), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, offered this e-mail reaction to the news of Orszag’s imminent departure:

Director Orszag executed President Obama’s budget through major challenges and played a pivotal role in the passage of historic health care reform legislation. I urge President Obama to appoint a budget director with the necessary background to manage the fiscal challenges facing the Federal government and the nation. I look forward to working with the president’s appointee.


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