The curious case of Jeff Zients’ changing title

(CORRECTION: Zients’ appointment as acting director of the Office of Management and Budget expired in September.)

Everyone who follows Washington policy knows the head of Office of Management and Budget is Acting Director Jeff Zients.

In fact, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney just told reporters this week President Barack Obama has asked Zients to stay on a little longer until his successor is confirmed.

However, unbeknownst to many, for about the last six months Zients was not the acting OMB director because his interim appointment quietly expired last year.

Zients took over as acting head of OMB in January 2012, when his predecessor Jack Lew left to serve as President Barack Obama’s chief of staff. (Lew has since been nominated and confirmed to lead the Treasury Department).

But under the 1998 Federal Vacancies Reform Act, Zients’ appointment was limited to 210 days, which means his status as acting director expired last September. At that time, he reverted back to his original role as deputy director for management. After that, Zients even stopped signing official OMB communications under the title “acting director.”

However, all that changed on March 4 when Obama nominated Sylvia Mathews Burwell, president of the Walmart Foundation, to permanently head the office. The vacancies law contains a “spring-back” provision, which allows a former acting official to resume the duties of the office after the President makes an official nomination.

An OMB spokeswoman said Zients’ continued to lead OMB from his deputy director for management role even after his acting appointment expired. His authorities and responsibilities did not change, the spokeswoman said.

In announcing Zients “return,” Carney cited his past experiences heading the office.

“Confirmations take a certain amount of time, even when they’re smooth,” he told reporters Tuesday. “And this is an enormously important agency, especially at this time.”

Zients “brings a unique set of talents and wisdom to this job, and the President appreciates his service and his willingness to continue as acting director very much indeed,” Carney added.

However, Zients’ continued role at OMB would seem to take him out of the running for U.S. Trade Representative, a job he was angling for in Obama’s second term, according to Reuters.


Obama to name Zients acting OMB director