As Orszag Steps Down, the Next OMB Director Must Be Committed to Transparency

If you're reading this blog, you probably pay at least a little attention to the news, so you likely already know that Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Peter Orszag will be stepping down in the next month or so. Since this is the first "high level" Obama official to leave, it is predictably setting off a flurry of media attention about Orszag's potential replacement.

Despite our name, we don't talk much about Orszag (okay, well at least not the Budget Brigade). On our issues, it's the deputies that get more headlines, such as Jeff Zients. And Orszag is perhaps most famous for his crusade against health care costs, which we don't do much with.

But that doesn't mean that Orszag hasn't been important for the transparency movement, or that we don't care who the next OMB director is. The position is incredibly vital for setting the tone for the entire agency. Without a director committed to open government, for instance, I don't think we'd have the Open Government Initiative, of which the recently announced sub-award reporting on is a part. And while we're still waiting for OMB to extend Recovery Act recipient reporting to all levels, OMB's recipient reporting guidance has steadily improved and has shown a strong commitment to improving data quality.

The director also has a central role in the budget process. While OMB works closely with the other federal agencies to create the president's budget request, perhaps Orszag's most important contribution could be through the Open Government Directive, which contains a budget transparency aspect, requiring a "long-range vision of how the government will achieve optimal transparency." We're hoping this vision will eventually drastically reshape how the federal government thinks about budget transparency, linking everything from agency budget requests through appropriations down to recipient spending, potentially making it Orszag's most lasting contribution to the movement.

Continuing this long-range vision, and the larger Open Government Initiative, will be one of the most important transparency challenges awaiting the next OMB director. When Orszag leaves in July, the vision will be nowhere near completion. A recent shortlist of nominees doesn't reveal anyone antagonistic toward transparency, and I don't think Obama will choose someone who isn't committed to this goal, but the next director will need to have a strong vision of how to make the federal government more open and accessible to its citizens. Over the next few months, as Obama announces his nomination for OMB director and he or she goes through the Senate confirmation process, it will be interesting to see how the nominee's qualifications will translate into a more open government.

Image by Flickr user Center for American Progress used under a Creative Commons license.

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