Senators crave future transparency from Trump’s pick to lead government reorganization

The new face and voice behind the Trump administration’s government reorganization initiative is on track to clear her first hurdle in the Senate nomination process.

If confirmed, Margaret Weichert, the president’s nominee to be the Office of Management and Budget’s deputy director for management, said she’ll be the lead on the administration’s government reorganization effort.

The few members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee who sat in on Weichert’s nomination hearing Thursday seemed receptive to her experience and her ideas. But some of them are looking for more transparency from OMB as agencies prepare to announce and implement their reform plans as part of the fiscal 2019 budget process.

“We haven’t been able to get anyone from OMB to give us a status report,” Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), the ranking member of the Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management Subcommittee, said. “They are the people who are on point on this. If we are going to be successful doing our oversight, we definitely need cooperation from OMB, and I’m a little concerned that we’re not getting it right now.”

Heitkamp’s subcommittee has held two hearings so far this year on the administration’s reorganization effort. The subcommittee invited OMB to testify at the second one, but the agency declined the offer.

Subcommittee Chairman James Lankford (R-Okla.) said OMB told him it was too early in the reorganization process to testify and the agency offered to speak  publicly on the Hill at a later date.

Heitkamp echoed the concerns some senior executives and federal labor unions had expressed during the September hearing, offering her worries that OMB hasn’t, or won’t in the future, collect feedback from frontline federal employees about their own reorganization suggestions.

“I hope we can expedite your confirmation,” she said. “I find you perfectly well-qualified. But just know that there is a larger role of oversight that OMB plays with this committee, and when we don’t get the information back from OMB, I don’t think we can perform the responsibility that we have.”

Weichert, who’s currently serving as a senior OMB adviser while she awaits full Senate confirmation, will also serve as the lead on the President’s Management Agenda and President’s Management Council. She said she plans to focus on three main priorities: IT modernization, data accountability and transparency and people in the workforce.

“My hope, if confirmed, is to bring this spirit of innovation, combined with private sector practices to drive greater efficiency, effectiveness and transparency in federal management functions,” Weichert said.

The lengthy and complicated federal hiring process has been one of the biggest impediments to making progress on the management agenda, Weichert said.

And the administration should think more about how it can leverage automation — and how those technologies will impact the current federal workforce in the future, she added.

“This is actually a pivotal piece of making progress, because I’ve heard anecdotally as senior adviser many instances where we’ve actually shied away from the right technology solution or efficiency solution or customer experience solution because we didn’t have an easy way to deal with the people who are currently performing that function,” Weichert said. “I actually believe that is a linchpin to moving forward on both the efficiency and the customer experience agendas. Re-skilling is critical. … If we have great federal employees doing a function that was really about what was status quo in the [19]50’s, how do we bring those people into jobs that are relevant in the 21st century?”

The Senior Executives Association also praised Weichert’s background and said it was confident she could transfer the best practices she’s learned in the private sector to government.

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