Budget analysis: After unveiling budget, OMB works behind scenes

Tuesday - 2/14/2012, 5:35pm EST

Frank Reeder, principal, The Reeder Group

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Robert Shea, principal, Grant Thornton

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With the official release of the administration's 2013 request, the budget battle is now underway on Capitol HIll — and, often, behind the scenes.

Administration officials have already begun their trek to the Hill to answer questions about the budget request. Jeffrey Zients, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, testified before the Senate Budget Committte, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta defended the Pentagon's budget and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner sparred with lawmakers over the deficit.

Frank Reeder, a principal at The Reeder Group and former OMB official, joined In Depth with Francis Rose to discuss OMB's role in the budget processing going forward.

"OMB has traditionally taken the view that people who speak for programs, both on the substance of the program and fiscal requests, are the appointees and officials in the agencies, who run that program," Reeder said. "OMB, in that sense is very much a staff organization — it tries not to be visible. One of the customs that all administrations have observed is that, except for Senate confirmed OMB officials — and there are a half a dozen of them — OMB staff don't testify."

But being in the background and not playing a role are not the same thing, Reeder added, noting that testimony by agency officials is typically cleared by OMB first.

But, with all of the politicking likely in an election year, will the numerous budget hearings even accomplish much?

"I've always viewed hearings — and this again is not intended to be a partisan statement in any way — as performance," Reeder said. "The substantive work gets done elsewhere."

The behind-the-scenes work isn't native only to OMB. The various appropriations committee clerks will work with agency budget officials, Reeder said, and will turn over "much more detailed budget submissions" than released by OMB this week.

Performance management

Another former OMB official, Robert Shea, who served as the associate director for administration and government performance and is now a principal at Grant Thornton, joined In Depth to discuss the performance-management aspects of the 2013 budget request.

The budget contains many provisions relating to performance management, Shea said. He noted the addition of 14 new cross-agency priority goals. "These are goals that multiple agencies are going to work to achieve." They're a mix of both outcome and management goals that align with the modernization of the Government Performance and Results Act.

"There's a continued focus on using performance to make decisions and, though I'm not sure they're purely based on performance, there are lots of cuts and consolidations that, if managed well, could really improve performance," Shea said.

Shea said the inclusion of the multi-agency priority goals indicates progress. "But I don't think they cover enough, and I don't think they're sufficiently outcome-oriented. But they are a start, and I want to give credit where it's due."

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