Reform appropriations?

Efforts to reform the federal government may require changing the appropriations process in Congress and reducing the number of Senate-confirmed political appointees in federal agencies, a Bush administration official said today.

The current design of Congress is flawed, said Robert Shea, the Office of Management and Budget's counsel to the deputy director for management. Shea, who also oversees the budget and performance integration initiative section of the President's Management Agenda, spoke today at a book unveiling at the Council for Excellence in Government.

"We need to convince Congress of the benefits of managing and budgeting and authorizing for results, and they have not universally bought into that concept," he said. Reforming the House and Senate Appropriations committees would not mean "that funding can't be directed to a single project in a single district but that overall, we need to move from authorizing and funding less-effective programs and authorizing and funding more effective programs."

Shea also said the Bush administration "ought to dramatically decrease the number of people requiring Senate confirmation" into federal executive positions. Senate confirmation is an honor for those who get it, he said, but "Congress will be there for you, whether you want them or not, regardless of whether you've been confirmed by them."

Enacting congressional reform could be difficult, however, he said. "There's just no constituency for managing for results other than perhaps in the oversight committees," which have no power over annual appropriations.

Still, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee and the House Government Reform Committee are the right places to start, Shea said. "They'll invite you. They understand the language" and can enact governmentwide frameworks for reform. The committees "probably will enact a governmentwide personnel reform management," he added.

Overhauls of the appropriations structure aren't easy, said John Scofield, House Appropriations Committee spokesman. E-government "has never taken off because they've never done a good job convincing us they're going to save any money," he said. "They're just trying to place the blame on Congress, which is convenient, but not very accurate."

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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