GAO questions long-term success

The 2-year-old reorganization of the Office of Management and Budget brought closer attention to agency management issues in 1995 according to the General Accounting Office but it is questionable if this new emphasis will last beyond the current administration. Based on interviews with more than seven dozen OMB staff members GAO concluded that "top leadership direction will continue to be an important factor" if OMB wants to use the budget process to hold agencies more accountable for how they manage programs.

Meanwhile GAO recommended OMB needs to review which of its internal management approaches work best to "ensure the integration of management and budgeting." The study "Changes Resulting From the OMB 2000 Reorganization " found that the way OMB oversees information systems had been affected least by restructuring the agency. New "resource management offices" (RMOs) in charge of agency budgets and management oversight were responsible for implementing governmentwide information resources management policies but IRM oversight is not part of the job description of the examiners who assess agencies' programs.

The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs retained its responsibilities for setting IRM policy for the government it assigned staff members to work with the examiners and to educate them about information technology issues. "We didn't say this is a flaw that the IT side is getting short shrift in the reorganization " said Curtis Copeland assistant director with GAO's General Government Division. "They need to evaluate the things they did in OMB 2000 explicitly...to make sure management issues are being appropriately addressed in the RMOs."

OMB Gives Positive Response

In a response to the report OMB deputy director for management John Koskinen described it as "thorough accurate and constructive." In addition he said the report "has been very helpful in pinpointing implementation strategies that OMB must examine carefully in the coming months." The report may add to perennial congressional concerns that budget oversight dominates the OMB agenda. GAO said OMB staff reported varying approaches to addressing management issues among the RMOs and that they questioned whether examiners had enough time and expertise to take on this responsibility.

A recent memo by the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee's Subcommittee on Government Management Information and Technology said the report suggests "more substantive oversight of the management practices of [OMB] is necessary." A hearing planned by the panel for Dec. 28 is being rescheduled. The aide said the study "was not intended to be judgmental" because OMB 2000 has been in place for only one budget cycle. But it may be used to support a proposal by subcommittee chairman Rep. Steve Horn (R-Calif.) to create a separate federal management agency. "It still seems clear that the focus on management isn't enough and we think management capacity should be strengthened " the aide said noting that some might favor beefing up OMB's management side instead of creating a new management agency.

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