Senate Likely to Confirm First-Ever Chief Performance Officer

On June 16, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) voted to approve the nomination of Jeffrey Zients to serve as the nation's first Chief Performance Officer (CPO), moving the issue to the full Senate.

On June 10, HSGAC held a confirmation hearing for Zients, where senators questioned him about his private sector background and a host of topics he will be responsible for overseeing, such as excessive outsourcing, lack of use of performance data, government overpayments, waste and mismanagement in IT projects, federal workforce development, and overburdened acquisition employees. In response, Zients acknowledged up front that the private sector and government are inherently different types of structures, and he generally promoted some ideas already developed within the new administration, such as curbing the Bush administration's competitive sourcing initiative.

Zients will oversee four statutory offices at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) – Information and Regulatory Affairs, Federal Procurement, E-government and IT, and Federal Financial Management – and fulfill two roles: the deputy director for management at OMB and advisor to the president on performance issues.

This will be Zients' first foray into government service, and his comments at the hearing focused on the need to strengthen performance metrics and emphasized the challenges of measuring success in the public sector. Among other things, Zients will face the challenge of improving government performance in the face of an aging federal workforce, a patchwork of information technology systems that overlap and are not compatible with each other, and the trend toward outsourcing government functions.

In response to questions from senators, Zients agreed that the government's outsourcing policies needed to be reexamined to make sure that agencies still retain control and accountability for outsourced work. He also stated that work should not be outsourced if it falls within government's expertise or can achieve savings by being adapted elsewhere in the government.

Overall, Zients reiterated the president's desire to increase transparency and acknowledged the need to improve tools such as the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART) in order to improve resource allocation decisions and increase the use of reliable and unbiased performance data among policymakers. He also vowed to work closely with the committee on issues related to acquisition employees, an overloaded security clearance system, and government overpayments.

While the Zients nomination is not controversial, it may get delayed because some Republicans are upset with the Democrats’ decision to move forward with July hearings on U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. A number of nominations have been tied up in the Senate because of this, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) recently criticized Republicans for holding up the process. What impact these events will have on the timing of the Zients confirmation remains unclear.

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