It was a speech that was as much homecoming as it was a farewell for Peter Orszag, who leaves the White House this Friday for the last time as director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Orszag delivered his final public speech as OMB director on Wednesday before a packed house at the Brookings Institution, where he once served as a senior fellow before going on to the Congressional Budget Office.
“As I close my tenure at OMB let me say it has been a high honor to serve this President and this administration,” he says. “Teddy Roosevelt said that far and away, the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing. And I thank the President for giving me that prize.”
Orszag recounted his work on the economic stimulus program, and health care reform, but focused much of his speech on what he called “efforts to improve the functioning of our government over time.”
At OMB, Orszag has a reputation as one of the OMB chiefs who emphasized the “M” in management, as well as the “B” in Budget. To that end, his farewell speech touched upon Obama Administration efforts to bring the federal government into the Internet age.
“According to the Pew Research Center, about two-thirds of Americans believe that when something is run by government, it is usually inefficient and wasteful,” he says. “And unfortunately, the public perception often reflects reality. A significant part of the problem is that government has been slow to adopt technologies that have made the private sector more productive in the last 15-20 years.”
Orszag talked about how the White House has set out to eliminate government programs that he says are outdated, duplicative or don’t work. And he discussed a little-publicized OMB initiative that took aim at the stubborn, persistent problem of what are called improper payments by the government.
“Last year, the federal government made $110 billion in improper payments, payments that go to the wrong person, for the wrong amount, or at the wrong time,” he says. “We established a goal of reducing improper payments by 50 percent by 2012.”
In addition, he says the administration worked with Congress to write and approve a bill to give agencies added tools to combat improper payments, a measure which the President recently signed into law.
Orszag also talked about an ongoing initiative within OMB and the federal chief information officer community to crack down on expensive information technology programs, and in particular, financial management programs in most departments which he says have a bad reputation for being expensive and out of date by the time they are complete.
He also began the process of shepherding a non-defense or homeland security discretionary spending freeze across the government, and recently asked agencies to cut 5 percent from their budgets in 2011.
Responding to reporter questions, Orszag was reluctant to recommend whether the president, or his nominated successor, Jacob Lew, should extend or not extend tax cuts slated to expire later this year, saying only that he would no longer be on the job by the time that decision is required.
Lew is expected to face Senate confirmation hearings to replace Orszag in September.