OMB: A small agency with big muscles to help President-elect Trump succeed
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President-elect Donald TrumpDonald TrumpScaramucci says he will contact FBI, Justice Dept. over leaked financial disclosure Dem rep to introduce measure requiring White House to disclose pardons Lawmakers push to toughen foreign lobbying rules MORE’s decision to name conservative budget hawk Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) to be director of the Office of Management and Budget is a signal that the new administration will emphasize lower government spending even amid plans for sizable tax cuts and a major infrastructure program.

This ambitious agenda no doubt will consume the lion’s share of the new director’s time. But as he helps craft a new budget and grapples with fiscal policy, Mulvaney and the new president should embrace the other critical roles played by OMB that could have a huge impact on the operations and management of the government – and whether the administration’s policies are implemented successfully.

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OMB is a small agency –fewer than 500 employees– but its reach spans across the federal landscape. It is the only entity at the “center of government” positioned to drive innovation, collaboration, efficiency and the use of data throughout the federal enterprise.

With the potential of smaller budgets, improved management and more cost-effective ways of delivering services will be essential – issues that certainly should appeal to Trump and members of his Cabinet who come from the business world. And as history has demonstrated, competent management can lead to positive outcomes and a successful presidency while missteps can derail important initiatives, lead to political fallout and increase public distrust.

While the departments and agencies must be responsible for implementing policies, there are a number of areas where Trump and Mulvaney can build on and expand some of the current practices to greatly improve government performance, better serve the public, and in the process, help themselves.

First, OMB should play a stronger role strengthening how government uses information and evidence to better understand whether programs and policies are getting positive results. Too often, agencies spend money based on good intentions and “guesstimates,” not on measurable evidence that programs are working as intended. OMB could help set standards for what constitutes success and identify which programs and approaches meet those standards.

Second, OMB should be more proactive in removing barriers that impede change and innovation. Solving tough problems sometimes requires taking chances, and that means a greater tolerance for well-founded risk-taking. While OMB has a reputation for being the agency of “no” because of its role protecting the president and the administration’s budget and policy priorities, it can do more to clarify where agency leaders have flexibility to test new approaches, identify areas that are off limits, provide air cover to test new ideas without fear of reprisals and serve as an incubator for change.

The Obama administration, for example, created a template for innovation by standing up the United States Digital Service inside OMB, bringing in private sector technology experts to work with federal employees to improve agency online services and internal operations. OMB then helped spread this successful digital services startup model to other agencies.

Third, OMB should build on current efforts to get agencies to work more closely together on many of the nation’s critical challenges. Few of the issues, such as cybersecurity, economic development or immigration, can be solved by any single agency acting alone. Achieving many of the new administration’s priorities will require having the government operate as an integrated enterprise instead of acting as separate, disconnected entities. OMB could work with Congress to fund cooperative interagency efforts, and help agency leaders connect and map strategies to align overlapping activities.

An example of current of OMB-assisted cross-agency coordination has involved expediting the federal permitting, review and approval processes for more than 50 infrastructure projects like roads, bridges, railway and waterways. This has involved efforts by multiple agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Transportation and the Army Corps of Engineers, to synchronize their work. In New York State, the federal permitting and review process for the replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge took 1.5 years instead of the normal three to five years because of the federal coordination.

While the budget will always be OMB’s most significant function, Mulvaney and Trump will have the challenge and an opportunity to expand OMB’s role as a positive force in helping agencies more effectively deliver results for the American people.

Max Stier is president and CEO of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, which through its Center for Presidential Transition has worked with the presidential candidates, federal agencies, Congress and the White House to help ensure our next chief executive is ready to govern.


The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.